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Generic Will Form Leads to Unlawful Practice of Law

  • February 15th, 2007

Filling in a generic will form for a friend or family member may seem like a simple task, but be careful -- it could be considered the unlawful practice of law. The Supreme Court of South Carolina recently found that a man who helped a friend with her will engaged in the unlawful practice of law even though he merely filled in the blanks on a generic will form. (Franklin v. Chavis, S.C., No. 26251, Jan. 22, 2007).

Annie Belle Weiss asked Ernest Chavis, an insurance agent and friend, to prepare her will. Mr. Chavis used a 'Quicken lawyer disk' to generate a generic will on his computer. He filled in the blanks per her instructions and brought it to Ms. Weiss to sign. Ms. Weiss's grandniece's objected to the distribution under the will, which left most of Ms. Weiss's estate to her nephew by marriage and named Mr. Chavis as the personal representative of her estate.

The Supreme Court of South Carolina found that Mr. Chavis engaged in the unlawful practice of law. According to the court, because there was no evidence of Ms. Weiss's involvement in the preparation of the will '” the will was not typed in front of her and there were no notes indicating her instructions '” Mr. Chavis did more than act as a mere "scrivener" (someone who prepares a document on someone else's instructions). The court noted that the fact that Mr. Chavis prepared the will for no charge was irrelevant. Because he engaged in the unlawful practice of law, the court determined Mr. Chavis could not receive any fees for his service as personal representative of the estate. The court said that the lower court should decide whether the will is still valid, writing that '[the will] should not be invalidated simply because it was drafted by a nonlawyer.'

To read the full text of the case, click here.

ElderLawAnswers recommends consulting with a qualified attorney before drawing up a will and other estate planning documents. To find a qualified elder law attorney near you, click here.

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Last Modified: 02/15/2007

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