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Friday, March 25, 2022

Another home-made will disaster: fight over the family home ends after 12 years

Once, a long time ago, a very smug person said to me that he had made his own will because he knew full well that lawyers only wanted people to make wills so lawyers can make more money. To that person I replied that if I want to make money, I will encourage everyone to make their own wills. Why? Because I would make a few hundred dollars if I made someone a will, but I'd make tens of thousands of dollars on the family fight over the home-made will.

So let's dispense with the idea that home-made wills are any sort of money-saver. Though not every home-made will is a disaster, most are worse - MUCH worse - than people realize.

I'm going to give you an example based on a recent case from Alberta. In 1995, William Kirst made his own handwritten will. In 2010 he passed away. The fight over his will began shortly thereafter, and did not end until March of 2022. Yes, that means 12 years of fighting in court, including 7 years' worth of Case Management. It involved 17 court orders made by both the Queen's Bench and the Court of Appeal. 

And what were they fighting over? Just a house. 

The problem was that in the will, Mr. Kirst left his estate to his children but said that one son could live in the house "for awhile". Those two innocent-seeming words doomed his family to years of fighting.  Any  lawyer worth her salt would know that an undefined term like that would cause a problem.

It seems pretty likely to me that after 12 years, the legal fees amounted to more than the value of the house. I expect that family relationships are damaged beyond repair, as well. Paying a few hundred dollars for a will must, in retrospect, look like quite a good deal.

If anyone would like to read the Kirst case in its entirety, click here

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