It’s “Moot”, not “Mute”

People come to see me it seems, just to use this word. Then they botch it. Once in my office they try to work the conversation around so they can say “moot”.

Most of the time when they get to that crescendo moment where they get to use the legal term they invariably say “mute”, like the button in the lower right corner of the television remote control.

Example:

tv remote

If the other side gives up then the whole thing is mute, right?

After which I am tempted to merely mouth words but offer no sound to illustrate the errata. But I merely nod and move on.

Errata. Now there is legal term I wished more lay people recognized.

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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.

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

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.

Evidence : As Seen on TV

There are no rules of evidence on television but that is where most folks learn to practice law.

On television lawyers can do anything, present anything and say anything and the judge always follows the script. The problem of evidence in real courtrooms is that this is not television and what may be admissible in fiction may not be admissible in a real court.

If you think about it Rules of Evidence are important so the fate of people and their property are not just a question of emotion or prejudice or the right scriptwriter, and instead their fate is based on what is reliable, or authentic, or can withstand a good questioning.

People come to me with their opinions and declare it to be evidence. Bits of paper that may support their position become facts set in stone when handled by them, but go up like so much smoke when marked by the clerk, offered as evidence then objected to on any number of basis; hearsay, authentication, the best evidence rule, the list goes on.

Then they get mad. Well fine, be mad, but what you see on TV is not evidence.

The Carnage of Will Changes

Among the Do It Yourself Will carnage we see after people pass on are amendments made by themselves on the face of their documents after seeing the lawyer and then apparently changing their mind.

Reviewing a will that comes into the office all marked up we have to first decide who made the changes; the testator or someone finding the will and unhappy with his decisions while he was alive. Assuming the former, I was astonished to find a statute here in Washington State that sets out the rules for a do it yourself change to your will.

Forever we have had the rule that one must have a testator signing his will in the presence of two witnesses that sign it as well. That has not changed.

It seems however to be that one can revoke any particular gift by drawing a line through it, this is without two witnesses. You may not however add terms without those witnesses.

But then there is some case law that says if the deletion materially alters the disposition of the will in an unnatural manner, the partial revocation is void. So for example deleting a distant relative of a small gift might be OK, striking out two of three children without a formal disinheritance through Wills Act formality would not.

Think of the opportunities for fraud or other mischief, leaving it to the lawyers to unravel. The attorney fees involved are exponentially higher than merely returning to the lawyer for a codicil, usually a modest effort.

This would probably make good television. I hope am played by George Clooney.