Dont Go Changing

 

Don’t Go Changing..Billy Joel

Your will without me..

Don’t change your beneficiaries…

M’mmm..

I draft the clauses, I draft the sections, ..

I am the lawyer and your not…

I have started putting a bold stamp on first drafts of the wills and trusts I draft. I sometimes never hear from the client again after mailing out the first effort. I worry they start doing their own work after they see my start on their project.

draft

We have seen such events in our chambers. The mouth runs dry at the sight of such chaos in what once was another lawyers fine product.

Often folks arrive in my office not really knowing what they want to become of their estate when they are gone. One couple had a knock down drag out fight about who got what when they were both gone. I heard too much information about their children; who is “responsible” and who is not. I proposed sending out a draft for them to think about but the argument raged on for about an hour.

Finally they left, I sent what I thought was what they wanted and never heard from them again. Perhaps they are still struggling for control of what happens when they cross out of this plane of existence where the argument between them will finally end, leaving their children to continue the fight.

Do Not Write on the Evidence

How many times has a client come in with a great piece of evidence only to find it is ruined because they have indelibly added their testimony to the face of it in blue or black ink. It is as if the intense need to control events blots out any kind of judgment they might have had, or restraint to action until they can get some legal advice.

A letter might have proved their point, but who can say who is the author of all the rest of the commentary?document

I can hear the objection already, the document is not authentic because the author is undetermined.

Or in the case of a bank statement which was certainly produced by the bank, but who wrote “Uncle Charlie told me I was supposed to get this!!!” on the face of it?

 

 

I have vivid memories of a judge examining the offered exhibit then angrily declaring “Some one has written all over it!” knowing that someone was seated at counsel table next to me.

 

Objection Sustained.mean judge

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.

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

All Things Being Equal

I saw this bumper sticker in Seattle yesterday.

equality

I am a student of how far that love goes. I mean, should we put weights on the flamenco dancer so I can keep up with her? flamenco guitar and dancer

Or take hiring a lawyer for example. Do you really want him to be an equal? I seriously doubt this, but I have to say, there are multiple occasions where I have been asked to buy into my clients emotional state as the place from which decisions are taken, rather than remaining the objective advocate I think the client wants.

Sometimes I have a guy come in and tell me he “has a great case” and goes on to demonstrate with remarkable detail why we are not equals and the law school education and 30 years of experience really does mean something.

Note I do not say lawyers are better than their clients, but they rarely think like a lawyer and if they could they probably wouldn’t be in my office.

If I could write down how to think like a lawyer I would but here is the best I can do:

What a lawyer has to do is sort out the wheat from the chaff.
wheat thresher
I am not sure that would fit on a bumper sticker, and our task cannot be diluted into a catchy, likable sound byte but here are the facts:

When the client arrives with the plan for what the lawyer, like a chess piece, is to do it is the job of the lawyer to decide what to do, and disregard the directions from the less experienced client, as all things are not equal, unfortunately.

Need Not Be Present To Win

After the funeral a dozen people or so show up at the lawyers office, some times the same day, for the reading of the will. I think they get this idea this must happen from television and the movies. Television and the movies is where this unnecessary step belongs.
funeral procession
First, there generally is no reading of the will. Instead everyone with an interest in the estate gets a copy, but there are no elderly barristers with cherry lined law library waiting with fire blazing to read wills as funerals end.
read will

Second, you need not be present to win. When a person dies with a will leaving someone else property, the gift vests. Even if there is no will, by operation of law some heirs just plain take by doing nothing.

But there is always a catch, the vesting is subject to probate.
spendthrift
In other words, we have to pay the bills first.

Occasionally the lawyer will be hired to read the will but usually it is a huge disappointment for everyone involved. We don’t have a cherry wood lined conference room full of old books with fire blazing in the fireplace.
lawyers office
People fail to wear black or otherwise dress appropriately.
bad funeral wear

People do get upset, say things they might later regret, and otherwise misbehave. That part is like television and the movies. And that is why most lawyers refuse to read any wills to the family.

Title credits to Valetta King, Office Manager at Newton Kight LLP

There is no Substitute for Experienced Advocacy

1. We Are Created Equal. Among the Jeffersonian myths that have survived is the idea that all men are created equal. Perhaps that is true, but after birth their experience differs widely. They may not be that educated gentleman farmer Thomas Jefferson saw us as becoming these generations later. In fact, most are not. Thomas Jefferson

In the last several years the bench and bar have had a buzz word gone into policy called “Access to Justice”. I like to call it “Access to Firearms” but it has nothing to do with the Second Amendment.

2. Access to Justice. The basic idea is that with some forms and instructions on where to file them and how to confirm a hearing anybody can achieve “access to justice” and state their case like Jefferson’s farmer. So the court system wrote some forms and gave instructions on where to file them.

Unfortunately, as it is often said, Thomas Jefferson was the last man who had a grasp of the entire body of knowledge as it existed at the time. What this means to the pro se litigant he cannot possibly grasp what he is getting himself into.

Well, yes, you can get yourself in front of a judge. You can get yourself behind the stick of an aircraft too after reading the instructions on the internet on how to fly, but it is not a good idea. airplane crash

3. The Results. Often this does work out. Some questions are fairly straight forward. Divorce might be simple, then it might not.

There are a lot of “what if’s”. A child support issue between two Boeing employees can be done pro se as well.They each get issued a W-2 every year from which one can calculate monthly income and feed that data into a child support software to produce a result. Done deal right?

What if one of them doesn’t work for Boeing? What if he is self employed? Things get complex. I can say for sure the pro se litigant will not be able to fashion the court order that will equitably divide the Boeing pension in a way the company will recognize and follow it.

4. Too Close to the Problem. The other thing a lawyer does for a litigant that he cannot do himself is achieve some degree of objectivity about his or her case. Is it really a good idea to rush into court guns blazing? Are you sure the judge is going see things the way you do? courtroom antics

Maybe you can have a lawyer look at what you’re doing and see if it is alright. But then what if you botch the hearing by saying something that erodes the presumption that everyone comes to court in good faith and a bona fide dispute that requires a consumption of that most precious of commodities, judicial time?

How often have I seen the pro se litigant in court with a ton of paper in front of him, obviously served on the other party and the bench earlier, with this idea that his pleadings represent some manifesto that will change the course of human events? courtroom drama

The reality is he comes off instead just as an unhappy man wasting everyone’s time and his relief is denied. There is no substitute for experienced advocacy. courtroom

5. The Outer Limits. I cannot write down here what I have learned from 30 years of practice. It is part of the secret knowledge of lawyers, but even if I had to “tell all” I couldn’t transpose into words for you Jeffersonian gentlemen farmers how to conduct your case. It is in part and art, and otherwise just the nature of experienced advocacy.

There is No Trap Door in Superior Court

There is no trap door in Superior Court. trap door

This is not vaudeville, “Laugh In” or some totalitarian state.
HitlerAccused 1944

When someone lies in court, the opponent has to be prepared to confront them with a prior inconsistent statement made under oath somewhere during cross examination. That is not the same as arguing with them.

argument
Don’t expect the Judge to somehow magically know when a person is lying. Clairvoyance is not a requirement to take on the robes.
clairvoyant

Every month it seems someone appears in my office with a document someone has signed under oath, or declaration swearing the contents to be the truth “on pain of perjury” and declaring they have lied!

Truth is hard to find. One mans black is another mans white.

Star trek black and white

My Dad used to say that the reason we lawyers have jobs is one guy cannot see the other guys point of view. And that is why there are no trap doors or sudden death in civil or criminal law.

Modern fact finding is an advanced, yet frustrating concept. It takes time, and eventually there is some result. Better this way than by popular sentiment, strong man leadership or mob rule. French sloganguitene

The Estate of Elvis

Well of course there had to be a lawsuit when Elvis passed.

elvis

His will referenced “lawful” children being beneficiaries of his testamentary trust. Now who would that be? Children born during his marriage, certainly. Those adopted, OK, but there were none.

elvis and lisa marie

What about those Elvis may have sired on tour and never claimed? What if Elvis dies before a paternity action can be brought?

elvis in concert

Well as it turned out The King of Rock and Roll successfully defended a paternity suit in California, only to have the claimant return to haunt him post mortem, like in a horror picture. One wonders what forgettable music would be produced for that film, something from “The Trouble with Girls” perhaps?

Elvis the trouble with girls

If that Elvis love child was sired in Washington State it means that poor child should have you get nothing. Same in Tennessee apparently. Text from his Will:

..the Trustee is authorized to accumulate the net income or to pay or apply so much of the net income and such portion of the principal at any time and from time to time for the health, education, support, comfortable maintenance and welfare of: (1) my daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, and any other lawful issue I might have, ….

There is no Equal Protection argument either, it’s the parent that failed the child, not the state. Yes, New Age reader, “Lawful Issue” still means something.

Indeed, every word of a will means something, and how carefully chosen each word may be will not be examined post mortem, as this unfortunate appellant tried to claim. It is presumed every word means what it says.
elvis easy come easy go
It should be noted there are about 40% of children born in America to unwed parents at the present time. Even among the highly educated, it seems an acceptable practice. It’s remarkable people who clearly love their children simply chose to ignore great bodies of law that will have an impact upon them should they perish without taking care of matters.

What do you say to this child? Return to Sender?

elvis stamp
So, for those that presume the law has caught up with your Brave New World of family, take care to ensure terms are not thrown around in your will like “lawful” when you mean “all”.

Regardless of new concepts of family, people who have had children without benefit of clergy also want their offspring to say kind things about their parents when they pass, perhaps the way Elvis would end a concert:

Thank ya, Thank ya vury much.

elvis grave