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

Lets create a new law that will make the world a more fun place.

Lets adopt a law recognizing ship captains can actually perform weddings on board their vessels while at sea. This would then make our law congruent with the myth.

Lets require a dearly departed’s will actually be read to the assembled grieving family, some of whom eagerly await to hear what bit of the material world they have been left. Attire must be black.

Lets require courtrooms actually be filled with curious onlookers throughout the entire trial, as it is in the movies, gasping at the appropriate moments.

Lets regulate Elvis impersonators, requiring a license and fees.

Let’s install bike lanes on freeways.

Let’s adopt left hand drive like they have in the United Kingdom, Jamaica, Hong Kong and a few other former colonies, along with Japan and assorted other countries in the Far East.

Lets require live entertainment for people while they are waiting for licensing and vehicle registration at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Lets require postal employees to wear costumes of their favorite historical figures.

Lets require Disney to open and operate a theme park in every state, granting a waiver to Alaska and Hawaii as they already qualify as theme parks.

Lets adopt a 4 day work week. This leaves three days rather than two for lawyers to catch up on work.

Things Happen Along the Way

In 1519 Ferdinand Magellan departed Spain with 25o officers and crew in five ships. He didnt tell the crew, but the objective was to sail around the world. In 1522 only one of the original ships limped into the port of Seville with 18 of the original Europeans on board along with 3 Indonesians they picked up along the way.

What happened? Stuff. They ran into cannibals on the southern tip of South America, the Pacific was a lot wider than they had expected and they ran short of food, and Magellan himself was killed in the Philipines.

What has this got to do with estate planning? Would you leave on a perilous voyage without a will?  Before the author of the account of the First Voyage Around the World left, he executed a will. That seems prudent, but there is no record if the remaining 249 Spaniards, Portuguese and Italians on board did the same.

This is pretty much what I encounter each day in my practice; a patch work of estate planning executed in bank lobbies, stock brokerage offices and sometimes a lawyer’s office. Why is such a mess?

Conditions change. Emotions wax and wane. People have ideas about what the people they leave behind “need” without considering what really happens when application of Dead Man’s Statute prohibitions on hearsay are made, or the impact of an inheritance on a disabled person without a preexisting Special Needs Trust really means.

We are on a perilous voyage. All kinds of decisions made in the wake of your ship may come back to haunt you. Think about it.

If you could speak to one family member who has passed on, who would you pick?

I am sitting at the kitchen table my grandfather fabricated out of a used iron spool upon  which paper was wrapped as it came off the machines at the Weyerhaeuser plant  on the waterfront of Everett, Washington, my hometown.  The table is round, and has a Formica top.  Generations have eaten here.

I have chosen to write this piece sitting in the exact spot where ten years ago this September 11th I  first heard Bob Edwards of National Public Radio interrupted, then report that an airplane had flown  into one of the trade towers in New York.

It is the same spot where my grandfather listened all night to reports of the Normandy invasion on June 6th  1944. The radios have changed in that time, but they sit in the same place in  the kitchen.

Leslie Ralph “Spud” Hartman built this house himself in 1941-42 with the assistance of my grandmother Lenore and a few  friends. After Pearl Harbor was attacked December 7th 1941 men rushed to join the military. The government also began to designate certain industries as strategic, and also began to declare certain goods as war material.

Seeing the speed at which goods were being commandeered by the government he took delivery of the Sears-Roebuck  furnace he had ordered for this place, even though he wasn’t really ready for it. He spoke to the lumber supplier for the home, Martin Lumber, still on Broadway and Wall, to store it for him until he was ready.  The next day the furnace was declared war material, but he and grandma and my mother had heat throughout the war because he had paid attention. He was self reliant.

Then, without telling anyone he tried to join the Navy. Too old, he was told. And besides, he was working in a strategic industry.

And so he spent the war here at the mill, listening to reports from the front in this kitchen on a radio that sits where my radio sits. He watched the P-38 fighters training out over our bay, and one day saw a one of these airplanes in a steep dive fail to pull out in time and crash into our beautiful sea.

This house had the first television on the block in 1954. Spud won it in the Salmon Derby, held each year in our bay  when salmon was plentiful. The house was crowded with neighbors for weeks after that.

I was happy I had a television on September 11th 2001 because nothing Bob Edwards said prepared me for the pictures of the twin trade towers on fire then collapsing.

I had been calmly eating my oatmeal until Edwards report. He managed to get an eyewitness on the phone describing
how people were jumping from the towers. What struck me most about the interview was how calm and matter of fact the eyewitness delivered the facts, like he was calling a ballgame.

I recall thinking this, then contrasting to the reports of the same era as World War II. Perhaps Edward R.
Murrow was less emotional than the reporter describing the crash of the airship Hindenburg at Lakehurst New Jersey in
1937, but he was never flat.

The bumperstickers that declare “We will never forget” and display the flag are tattered, faded and worn now 10 years on. But this kitchen table is still here, and my memories are as fresh as my grandfathers were of his war. And I would like to compare notes.

Happiness for Lease

We all go a long way to have a slice of paradise. We go even further to leave it to our family when we pass. Into my office people come with revocable living trusts which are supposed to pass the timeshare at death. Mostly a step has been missed somewhere, and instead the asset is thus subject to an ancillary probate in far off Florida or Hawaii. Sometimes the owner of this rented happiness is still alive when they see me, and we can make a fix.

I have come to see the vendors of these places understand the need we all have to at least believe there is a simpler, slower time for all of us, if we could just find it. These vendors of happiness are waiting for us.

These properties all have names that evoke some kind of earth bound heaven; Island One, Palm something or other, Fairview, Fairshare, Fairwinds, Fair(insert adjective, verb or noun ) its all very fair. Can’t you see that for only about the price of a new car you can have happiness even of it is for just a few days a year? Like autos, the value drops precipitously when you drive it off the lot.

Often the names recall a golden age of sail or perhaps the perceived simpler life of the Caribbean. It is a chance to be your own Jimmy Buffett, and check out of our tragically bourgeois existence. Or perhaps we feel an exclusiveness because the timeshare anchor we bought into features the word “club” e.g. Wyndamn Club, Ocean Club, Bay Club, Penthouse at the Club,  et. sequitor.

What people believe it seems, when they sign the papers for a tiny bit of dirt on a beach for a short period each year, is that this will be the answer, the escape from the dreary life we have here in the rain. I wonder if they are right, but I doubt it. Sometimes they come to see  me to try to get out of the contract. Sometimes the heaven they bought is just hell on earth. Wouldnt a really expensive hotel room every so often been a better deal?

I will stick with the six Jimmy Buffett CD’s in my car’s stereo. Someone has to remain behind to mind the store, weighing in on nice ideas gone bad.

Deadliest Catch

My daughter tells me the television show Deadliest Catch has advised America that no death certificate is issued if you die at sea. She wanted to know if this is right. The statement is too simple, but I suppose it was made to net in the viewer to the Alaskan fishing show hook, line and sinker. As all or most of those boats homeport from here in Seattle, I took the bait.

Without a death certificate how does the fisherman’s widow collect the life insurance, probate the estate, or remarry? Is she really held up by a faceless bureaucrat’s indecision or some policy that seems to hold the lives of everyone in suspense waiting for a body to be washed up on some shore? What if the man dies like Captain Quint in Jaws? Ick. Certainly Roy Scheider could later testify as to the circumstances of Quint’s passing, and get some proof of death from some court. But unfortunately Roy Scheider has a death certificate himself, so we have a problem.

Take heart. MarkPattersonLaw: The Secret Knowledege of Lawyers is prepared to give an answer for the fishermans  family pacing at the terminal here in Ballard. They can:

A) Wait seven years for the presumption of death to arise, then make the claim, shifting to all persons who wish to say the fisherman is still alive a burden to prove this is true. This would be hard for say, the life insurance company, to do in a world where every credit card transaction is forever remembered by some machine somewhere, not to mention cell phones, on line accounts, and the like. In the modern world then there would tend to be evidence of the “tidings of existence” the law requires the insurance company to show to keep from paying the money. Instead there would be an abrupt end, indicating death. Note our widow will be in court, hence hiring a lawyer after seven long years.

Or she could:

B) Hire a lawyer earlier to seek a determination the fisherman is dead based on evidence we have now. Good luck. Before the seven years is up the presumption is the man is still alive. The life insurance company tries hard to hang on to that presumption notwithstanding some pretty compelling circumstances. Here are some examples:

  • Where a man’s wife has just given birth to a fourth child, he was hopelessly in debt, had spoken of suicide the day before departing on a sea voyage and his bag is found next to a railing of the vessel the insurance company not only went to trial, but also appealed. The company ended up paying.
  • Another man fell into the Columbia river in a place of swift currents and had reportedly never learned to swim. Another trial, another appeal. Company paid.
  • Still another reports the insured was “last seen entering the surf”. Another loss for the insurance industry.

Note these all involve water and therefore are deaths at sea. They also involve a big fight over a long period of time. And they both involve, drum roll please, hiring a lawyer.

In the end there is no death certificate unless the Court orders it but there is a record of death. So, Deadliest Catch, your tag line wasnt really right, but close enough for television.

Perhaps the last option is the fastest.

C) Upload the Deadliest Catch segment where the fisherman was lost to U-Tube, then go on local or national news media complaining about delay. The widow may get her money, her probate property, and be able to start life again much sooner. This option will not necessarily lead to a death certificate.

Ok that’s enough. I gotta go.

Hooray for Hollywood!

This was my first blog post ever. pparently no one in Hollywood listened. Oscar winning actress Anjelica Huston was being interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR’s “Fresh Air” recently and referenced her mothers death as something she couldn’t handle emotionally well. Understandable, she was 17. angelica huston

But then she said she didn’t hang around for the reading of the will . Well Anjelica, you didn’t miss much. Best to skip law school too and keep your day job as an Oscar winner.

Here is what I said about this in 2011. At least I know Hollywood doesn’t care what I write here.

Apparently without any desire to find out how it really works, Hollywood has developed several legal conventions for us all to consume, and presume, exist outside the theater. Here are some events on screen and how they play out in real life.

1) The reading of the will. You know how it looks, it’s the same every time. A really expensive looking conference room, a bushy browed lawyer at one end of the table reads to the assembled family members, or in the case of Rainman just Tom Cruise. In a slow steady voice he parcels out the property of the decedant and the people react. “I definitely got the roses, right?”
rainman
I hate to bring you up to date on current events but this doesn’t happen. I polled the lawyers on the probate list serve here in Washington State and found only one man who has ever been asked to do this and declared he would never do it again. It is a prescription for drama as well as domestic violence.

I regularly encounter people in the days following a death in the family who expect the reading of the will is going to be scheduled sometime by my firm, and that people should make travel plans to be there. Often people lie about whether this event has taken place, to yank the chain of the sister they never liked. “Too late Char, the will has been read! HAHAHAHA!”

2) Captains of ships can marry people. No. Persons licensed by authorities in states or other countries to perform weddings can marry people. Perhaps that marriage you are in was performed by the captain of the Love Boat, but you probably ought to check what credentials on land he was given for the act before you set sail. Don’t worry, the children are legitimate in most jurisdictions.the love boat in wreckers yard

3) The right lawyer can win anything. I literally have a memory of sitting on my fathers knee watching Perry Mason as a child. Perry won everything. The music at the end of the show with the books stacked up on screen as the credits rolled by scared the hell out of me. But Perry Mason is not the way it is. perry mason

If you want a reality check, watch A Civil Action starring John Travolta as the “right lawyer”. Its based on a true story, and I don’t think they deviatated from how things really happen. Fighting for an elusive result most of us would recognize as “justice” John makes mistakes and goes broke. And that ladies and gentlemen is a harsh reality check, even for the right lawyer.
John Adams
Even John Adams.