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

Susie Orman is Practicing Law Without A License : POSTSCRIPT

Susie Orman has a television show. She gives financial advice. Now she is giving legal advise, and she lacks a license to do so. She must be stopped.
Suze-Orman1
I have seen her on television telling everyone in America they want to avoid probate by putting everything they own and ever will own into a revocable living trust, so that when they die the assets just flow to the beneficiaries without probate.

This is good advice as I understand it, in California where she lives, but I will not say this as the State of California has not issued me a license to practice there. No similar license has been issued to Susie either, nor has she been to law school.
california state bar
Meanwhile she is telling my clients Your lawyer wont tell you this and goes on to talk about this trust. Right, I wont advise it because it is usually a mistake for people in Washington State, unless there is some really good reason to do so.

Meanwhile I have clients mad at me, thinking I am taking advantage of them. I don’t see how I could be so overreaching, when a will costing about a sixth to a tenth of a trust while the client is alive and the probate after the client has passed often less than the cost of the trust altogether.

Besides, I know some banks that just will not recognize the trust, and demand letters testamentary from the probate court in any case.

Susie Orman is practicing law without a license and must be stopped. But the California State Bar will not stop her, because, wait for it….

She Is Not A Lawyer

POSTSCRIPT : I had heard through legal channels will kits with Suze’s name on have begun to surface. I started typing her name into the Google search strip and got as far as half way through her last name when the bar auto completed “Suze Orman Will and Trust Kit”. suzeorman_kits_musthavedocuments

My apologies for not spelling her first name correctly earlier.

The website calls these the “Must Have Documents”. It ain’t necessarily so. Not everyone needs a trust.

Also some people have special needs that only a lawyer with some experience will see.

The price for the “Must Have Documents” is a promising $63 according to the website. This supposedly saves the average American $2500 according to Suze.

“It ain’t necessarily so
It ain’t necessarily so
De things dat yo’ liable to read in de Internet
It ain’t necessarily so”

Porgy and Bess with edits.

REPEAT: Suze Orman is practicing law without a license and must be stopped.

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.

Lawyers as Chesspieces

The other day a client mentioned she was worried her ex-husband would “use his lawyer to block me.”

The perception that the lawyers are chesspieces in some game between parties to a divorce came to mind. Apparently we are mere objects in the war between the men and the women. Let us hope both parties can see the whole board.

For the record, I see myself as a knight, able to move two spaces in any direction, other than diagonal, then one more to either side.

The Courthouse Blues

There are two kinds of people to be found in the courthouse: Those on their way to hearings, and those emerging from hearings. It is not unlike a hospital.

Entering either building the litigant or patient is apprehensive or they are overconfident. Some presume the death penalty. Some do not appreciate the peril they are in. All are hopelessly at the mercy of the lawyers or doctors.

Leaving the buildings there is either relief, increased anxiety or profound sorrow.

But the courthouse alone can in one day change the balance of power between litigants. Often the litigant arrives with a smugness, a sense of entitlement or self-righteousness that never plays well. Humility, expressed in pleadings, appearance or speech can go a long way. Unfortunately this is considered unduly meek by some, and they do not even consider they might be wrong.

Emerging from the hearings we hear the long wail of those who have lost. Think of the painting The Scream by Munch.  Or there is the rush outside, the cigarette poked in the mouth and hurriedly lit, family and friends trailing behind.

Like a soldier that has seen too much, I am no longer moved when a woman loses custody of her children. Normally this is because either the father is just a better parent, but more often because the mother has presumed she is “free” and can do just about anything and still retain her children.

It is no longer so. Our state adopted an equal rights amendment to our state constitution when it was fashionable to do so, 1972. The amendment also declares the sexes have equal responsibility.

You have come a long way baby. You have an equal right to the courthouse blues.

Spread My Ashes Somewhere But Dont Forget Me

More often than not people want their remains cremated and ashes spread somewhere rather than be buried in a cemetery. They worry about the money I think, which is unfortunate as they cannot take it with them, and you know, maybe the family needs something more than a body of water to look at to remember the departed.  Usually that body of water is Puget Sound or an alpine lake, but sometimes at some lookout or other special place like the Grand Canyon.

Unfortunately much of this is just a whimsical notion of a family standing around and tipping the urn over and having the remains flow out on a breath of wind dramatically returning the departed to the earth.

Instead what happens is some of the ash floats away, but most of it sort of comes out in a lump. The bone is not always completely incinerated and once it hits the water tends to remain cohesive for far too long.

Then there is the entire question of whether this violates an environmental law somewhere. I have always presumed it does, but have yet to have any agency levy a fine for this sort of spill in Puget Sound. In fact a member of my staff reports advising a Washington State Ferry employee of the intention to distribute the ashes from the boat, and finding the captain stopped the ferry mid-transit to allow for the event.

I wouldn’t count on this to be the norm.

Still I wonder how many people wish they had a headstone to visit when missing the departed. Somehow the Sound is just too public, to ambiguous, and feeds my sense of existentialist crisis.

40 Days to Apply for Executor is Almost Biblical

Noah and the flood, 40 days.

Moses goes up the mountain into a cloud, 40 days.

Jesus in the desert, 40 days.

Modern Lent, 40 days.

Some mention of this 40 days in Lord of the Rings to, which I am told some consider Holy Writ.

And 40 days is the amount of time a spouse can allow to lapse and thereafter leave open the possibility someone else will apply to be personal representative, or executor of the estate of a lost husband or wife.

It is written.

The Last Minute

Despite my best intentions I found myself at the mall shopping this week before Christmas. I was not alone with the sense of rush to accomplish tasks that could have been done earlier. Predictably it was a stress filled event that makes me question whether Jesus would shop on line or shop at all.

I also wondered about those who make this choice in estate planning; shop on line or come to my office. Often I open a probate where the family comes in with the “will” the dear departed family member left behind only to find it is “holographic” or self created without proper witnessing. These are not admissible in Washington, but they are elsewhere.

Probably all the on line instructions are correct, but are skipped over as the reader scrolls down to the “I agree” button we have all learned we must push to get to the product we want on line. So skipping what law professors call “Wills Acts Formalities” means you died without a will.

Americans prefer to be informal, as if this is a virtue we should all aspire to imitate. An American will tell you anything no matter how personal, and he will dress as if they are going to a beach party when something more formal would be appropriate.

So it is a shock to learn the American law frowns on informality, and thus these “informal” documents are not admitted to probate. This means the informal desires of the decedant have no formality at all, and will never be considered. It’s like going out to eat in Europe and being turned away because you failed to pack a coat and tie. Go ahead and get upset, but there isn’t anything you can do about it. Like the better European resturants, the law has standards. Thats why they call it “Law”.

Realizing they are about to be turned away from the last menu selection they will ever make,  people find themselves calling me from emergency rooms, or are brought in to the office on oxygen, or dont quite make it in at all. I recall one such fellow who had consulted with me about a will but put it off. I finally saw he was on the calendar finally for the following week, but alas, saw his photo in the obituaries Sunday morning.

There really is a too late, and the last minute is often truly, the last minute.