Primogeniture

It is extraordinary how many people come into my office believing the oldest son somehow has some inherent right to govern the estate of the parents.

Being a lawyer, I start looking for authority for this rule. I start with Exodus 13-

The Lord said to Moses, “Set apart for me the first boy born in every family. The oldest son of every Israelite mother belongs to me. Every male animal that is born first to its mother also belongs to me.”moses

And thus Primogeniture was born, as well as animal law.

Note the ancient practice of Primogeniture called for the first born male to actually inherit, not just govern his parents estate. This lead to the ancient practice of fratricide as well.

Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.”
And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

—Genesis 4:1-8
cain and abel
It has never been clear to me his motive, Abel was not the oldest. Cain was going to inherit anyway. Perhaps Cain got bad legal advise from the internet.

Here is something to keep the modern mind away from such sin; slayers do not inherit. See Revised Code of Washington.

Letters of Marque and Reprisal; Privatize the war on ISIS

It appears the President is hesitant. Obama

Elected on the pledge to return our troops home there seems to be mounting evidence they should have stayed.
ISIS
Back when the United States Constitution was first framed, it was not uncommon for a country to grant a license to a privately owned and armed ship to sail out onto the seas and sink, burn or capture as a prize the vessels of an enemy. Navy’s are expensive, and the entire enterprise is risky. Why not shift that risk, with the associated rewards, to some one else?

So at Article I, Section 8, part 11 it is reserved to Congress to:

Declare war, issues letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water;privateer

Sure, Halliburton and Blackwater have given privatizing war a bad name in the present day, but as far back as Francis Drake (d. 1596 ) these men have been considered one piece of paper away from pirates. And that piece of paper made everything all legal. drake

Plenty of prizes await say, Shell Oil, in the region.

The President is hesitant, Congress should act. Let us issue letters of marque and reprisal to tame the beast that has engulfed Mesopotamia.
congress

Dry County? Is that Legal?

In the check out line in Seattle a customer was purchasing Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey. The clerk noted he hadn’t had any of that in a while. grocery clerk

I couldn’t help but relate the stuff is distilled in a dry county.

The staffer was incredulous? “Is that legal?” he asked.

Yes, I know that everything is legal in Seattle it seems. canabis

The most striking aspect of the clerks comment to me was the notion that a ban on sale of alcohol would be considered illegal. File that under “tyranny of the minority”, or “temperance is against the law”, something like that.
Washington is one of 32 states that permits localities to opt out of the sale of alcohol. None have. Alcohol_control_in_the_United_States_svg

Much of Tennessee has the mixed county rule ( yellow ) but not Moore county ( red ) where Lynchburg sits. One has to drive to Coffee county to the north to actually purchase a bottle of Mr. Jack.

The irony of the name of Coffee county as the closest place to purchase Jack Daniels has never been lost on me, which is where I bought my first bottle after the tour years ago. Just before I left Lynchburg the hillbilly tour guide asked me if I knew why the bottle was square. “So it don’t roll out from underneath your seat!” Jack

How Many Stars Would You Give the United States Constitution?

I recently bought a copy of the constitution on Amazon. My reward is an opportunity to review the document on their website. The question seems a bit obscene, given the gravity of the document, as it has asked me to rate it as if it were a motion picture. constitution

Our constitution embodies a foundational understanding of what it means to be an American. It sets forth a rule of law for us all to count on, no matter who may be in office or what should transpire.

The idea that the foundational laws of a country should be set forth in a single document was rather radical at the time it was adopted, 1788. The precedent Articles of Confederation (1781) failed to work out, and shortly it appeared the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts authored by John Adams (1780) seemed to be the most workable frame for government; a bicameral legislature, an executive and an independent judiciary.John Adams

Britain, by contrast has a series of documents starting with the Magna Carta (1215), each of which reflects the prevailing concerns of the age.magna carta
We now see a great constitutional debate in our mother country, The United Kingdom, whose Prime Minister has proposed what appears to be more of a federation like our own. uk

This is feasible. The historical documents delineating the role of the monarch, Parliament and the judiciary remains a workable collection of documents and practices subject to change from time to time.

Our Constitution, by contrast, is treated as Holy Writ, authored by now God like men referred to commonly as “the Founding Fathers” making changing it a heresy. James Madison, the documents author, was an extraordinary man. But he was still just a man.

I am beginning to have my doubts the American Revolution was necessary or has really served us in the long term. I have yet to meet any Americans who agree with me. The British generally feel differently of course. washington crossing the deleware

The British seem to be able to get things done. Sure, it is a much smaller country, but troubles here seem to perpetuate due to the weight given to the terms of a document which certainly allows for amendment, but doesn’t seem to be all that flexible until a Supreme Court is willing to either overrule itself or find a new logic to come to a different result.

Take the 2nd Amendment for example. We seem powerless to address the twin and competing needs to curb gun violence while respecting American desire to own and carry firearms. Change is out of reach. george washington armed

This is our law. It is good thing for any American to read from time to time. One might ponder the number of comma’s in the 2nd Amendment, which might be read as error and tend to cut the Founding Fathers down to a humanity that may lead to America rising from it’s bended knee before this document and addressing the challenges we face today.
sandy hook

Dying Declarations Are For Slayers Only

After the funeral people come to see me about probating the Last Will and Testament the family member left behind. The interview sometimes begins like this:
“Dad wanted me to have the farm. He told me so on his death-bed. He said, ‘I want you to have the farm’.”
family farm

I ask for the will and can find no reference to this bequest. Instead the client and all her siblings are listed share and share alike which means they all get an equal portion ownership.

“I am afraid you have a hearsay problem”, I tell the shocked client.

eager person
This “dying declaration” always seems to benefit the client immensely.

There is some room for dying declarations to be admitted in court.

First, the person has to understand they are about to die when the statement is made.

Second, it is only admissible to prove the client is guilty of murder of the decedent.

Third, if proven, the client is not going to inherit in any case because of the rule that says slayers do not inherit. axe murderer

Fourth, I refer this person out to a firm that handles criminal law.

A good example of what might be admitted against the client was John Lennon’s exclamation “I’m Shot!” if offered in the prosecution of Mark Chapman. john lennon

Faced with this and other evidence, Chapman plead guilty to 2nd Degree Murder and is still in prison.

So friends and neighbors let’s go with what is on paper and not a dying declaration. If admitted at all, it might mean you are going to jail.

Escheat- Your Property Goes to the State

Recently I heard an account of the Roman leader Sulla, (138 BC-78 BC) who decreed not only his political opponents but also those of wealthy families should be slaughtered so as to have their property escheat to the state so as to pay his army.
Sullahead

Even today, those without obvious takers of property like children or siblings, nieces and nephews, are at risk for this Roman escheat to the state, unless they have a will of course. However even after the fall of Rome it was not always so.

Things were more civilized by 1066 when Britain was successfully invaded for the last time.
Invasion of England

By then it was just a given that when you died, even though you may have paid for the land with a lifetime of rents and military service, the real property of which you were “seized” reverted to the feudal lord.

You really wanted to be a lord then, unless you were King Harold II, who died after receiving a Norman arrow to the eye at Hastings.

arrow in the eye

All his feudal retainers lost their rights in land to the Norman conquest; William was in charge and started parceling out the country to his army.

Of course sometimes the land was given to the vassal who fought for William with extras, such as adding the term “and his heirs” meaning the knight would be able to leave the property to his children. Thus it was not best to die childless in feudal England however, or the land will escheat back to the William once again.

William the Conqueror

The record keeping wasn’t all that good the either. Paper was expensive and it took a lot to make up a deed. One had to know Latin, and then find the right rock from the field to represent the transfer to tie to the deed.

medeval deed

If the lord had no paper or couldn’t write, let alone in Latin, typically he would call together the neighbors for a ceremony where he took up a dirt clod from the land in question, and placed it in the hands of the grantee vassal, thereby making the latter “seized” of the land.

Hopefully people remembered whether you were seized of the land for your heirs as well. I guess the take away from this sort of transfer is the vassal wants lots of witnesses, preferably young and healthy.

In consideration for these grants the lord got a share of the crops or other profits from the land.
Medeval farming 2

These ancient dues predated the Conquest, and William apparently liked them so much he just kept the rent the same. Perhaps that is why no one has successfully invaded England since, and loyalty to the Crown remains intact.

Today in the United States you can will your property to whomever you wish, just be sure to do so, lest the lords who govern your state end up with it.

The Forgotten Child

Last willFor some reason I have a run of kids that seem to have been forgotten during the first will preparation interview of late.

The client comes in, even fills out the form about who their children are, then we have the meeting, discuss what is their desires, and a first draft is sent out US Mail as a hard copy.

Then something happens. Perhaps it is guilt. Perhaps they just remember that long ago in another state another child was born, but the fates separated them somehow. An excited call comes to the office to amend to include this flesh and blood so long ignored, often with stressful questions as to what trouble this means. Shakespeare missed a good plot, but I believe there was a child of this nature that undermined everything in the musical “Camelot”.

This happens so often there is actually legislation about children who are forgotten. They are called “pretermitted”. This forgotten child is due whatever percentage he or she would have received had the parent died without a will.

The most recent iteration of our statute has the pretermitted claim limited to children born after the will is signed. Still, there will be a fight in any case.

Death is a good time to remember children, particularly in a will. You may have cause to disinherit, but do so expressly, lest that Iago child of your youth return to spoil Othello’s estate.

The Doctrine of Virtual Representation Can’t Save The Farm

Sorry, but this does not mean they have passed a law which allows the client to log on to an interactive website and have a virtual lawyer who does whatever you tell him. Instead the concept predates the internet by centuries and means you are stuck with the decisions of those who came before you were born.

The Doctrine of Virtual Representation is a common law concept which means what we do today about our property can bind our heirs; both those that have been born or are yet to be born.

Imagine the chaos if we lacked this rule. Generations who come after decide they were not adequately represented in the deeds Grandpa did, and sue the estate for a larger share.

I had a great-grandfather who lost the ranch in a poker game. There was a divorce. How would it be if I now decided Great-grandma didn’t get enough out of her husband for that folly when the decree entered? So I look up his descendants and sue them?

Nope. Better to just get in your old truck and head on down the highway to the future, and forget about the past. What is done is done.

Dont Take The Hearsay Rule Personally

I have clients that do this.

They come into the office, relate a story and declare a conclusion. I lean back in my chair, review my notes and I tell them about 2/3rds of it is inadmissible as evidence. This is not well taken, like I am telling them they are unable to relate what they heard accurately. Well I’m not, but the hearsay rule is.

The rule reads something like this:

No statement, made out of court, shall be admitted into evidence for the truth of the matter asserted.

What?

Lets break it down: HEAR. You hear someone something,  assume it is true, then turn and then SAY it to someone else like a Judge and ask him to assume it is true too.

Example: “John told me the light was green when I went through the intersection”. Using this statement to prove the color of the light is hearsay. My clients will then  come to Johns defense, as if he is being accused of lying, which really confuses the issue.

It’s so much better if you actually saw the light. “I saw the light was green when I went through the intersection”. Not hearsay.

It’s just remarkable how often I interview a witness or a client and find most of what they have to say is based not on their own first hand knowledge, what they actually saw but instead a mass of hearsay, peppered with preexisting judgments about the actors involved and a personal agenda.

Hearsay. It’s an old rule, but a good rule. Please, don’t take it personally.

Men, Women and Executrix

Because equality is fashionable now, the law has drained the gender out of everything, even death. No longer is a woman making a will called a Testatrix. Sorry ladies, we are all Testators now. No longer is her husband the Executor of the will. Or if the roles are reversed and he dies appointing his wife the Executrix in his will that name is buried with him.

Instead after we die we appoint a “personal representative”, an androgynous person who is not allowed to cry or be remotely human. We are all faceless government functionaries now carrying out the acts of administration and winding up the estate.

This is what our legislature does with it’s time; rooting out every possible reference to a bit of remaining individuality that is gender. Once doing research I found a statue had been amended, and clicked the hyper link to see what had changed. I stumbled upon a document listing the effort someone in our budget strapped state to take the “he” and “she” out of every statute in the state in favor of androgyny.

It’s almost Stalinist, rewriting history to fit the current power structure. The amendments went on for several pages, single spaced, line after line listing code section after code section so revised. Right, this is an important task someone carried out?

My clients still use gender terms like Executrix, and I allow it in the privacy of my office. Our conversations are confidential and privileged so there is little chance any of them will be denounced as sexist.

Image by Thurber, used apparently with permission.