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

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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.

Dad Wanted Me To Have That Speedometer

Shortly after a death personal property of the decedant t starts to disappear. This is not pursuant to a will,  or any court order. Instead it is some knob that is turned in the mind of the people who “knew him well” they all say, followed by “he wanted me to have this speedometer” or whatever.

What they really mean is “he doesn’t need this anymore and I want it”.

Most wills in our state have a provision for a list to found with the will at death declaring who is to get what after the author dies. The list has to be dated and signed but not witnessed, which is an exception to the normal wills acts formalities. Even so, no matter how easy the law is to follow most of the time people do not fill out the list and this leads to all kinds of mischief.

Instead things tend to evaporate causing friction among those of us left behind. Some of what is fought over is of little value, take this speedometer for example. I literally spent a day trying to prove the existence of old car parts and tools, as the decedant had left a large tract of land littered with old junked cars and the parts to go in them. This proved fruitless, let alone who entered the property and removed this speedometer to some “classic” auto which was still rusting there on the lot.

It is much harder it seems to remove a car that will not start and is covered in blackberry vines than a speedometer that is supposed to be entombed with the car.

It’s madness really. Stuff that was junk before the man died is now some prize to covet and obtain by any means and at any price. I was paid my fee for the effort. We lost.

Dad Wanted Me to Have This

I have literally fought in court over this speedometer

Wastin’ Away In Litigationville

“We got divorced and the lawyers got all the money.”  “Dad died and the lawyers got everything”.

How many times have you heard that? Why is that?

People do stuff that is based on assumption, folk law, movie law, hearsay, and maybe a little bit of knowledge that is a dangerous thing.  Act first, then see the lawyer.

And so it is they find themselves here, in the office, for more than a visit.

There are certain phrases I have learned to read as a sure sign there is going to be a problem that lasts months. My favorite:

This will just take a minute.

No it wont. And it isn’t the lawyers fault. It’s just the way law is; complex, and not well represented in easily accessible media, the pulpit or on bar stools where most people go first for legal advice.

Personally I turn to the music of Jimmy Buffett for respite from the stress of having to tell people the truth about where they are, breaking into song on the way home:

Wastin away in Litigationville

Looking for my lost statute of laws

Some people say that there’s a lawyer to blame

But I know

It could be my fault

Deathbed Gifts – Many Unhappy Returns

At some point your beloved elderly relative names you as attorney in fact in her durable power of attorney. You graciously accept the role and help her paying her bills and otherwise managing the house as her time on earth grows long.

Months, perhaps years later as your elderly relative lays dying she hands you her antique vase and declares “I want you to have this”. You accept graciously. Later you leave taking the vase with you.

Upon awakening the next day you find she has expired during the night. First there is the shock, then the funeral arrangements, and finally the probate gets underway. Everyone wants to know where the antique vase has gone. You tell the rest of the family our dear departed has given this to you.

The families response: PROVE IT.

The law in Washington is on the side of the family. The question is whether undue influence exists. For a will, contestants must show that undue influence lead to the execution of the will. For those who have done the labor of being attorney in fact who now find themselves defending a deathbed gift, the person receiving the gift must prove he did not practice undue influence by clear cogent and convincing evidence, far more than a preponderance.  Good luck. He had a “confidential relationship” which essentially presumes people in this role take advantage of the elderly.

Plan on returning the vase and save the attorney fees. It is curious at least that while we allow and encourage persons to transfer authority to manage affairs to someone they trust, rather than allowing an expensive guardianship to accrue, we presume they are acting with avarice if something as simple as a human act of gratitude is practiced as a last act in a life.