Monthly Archives: April 2014

Planning Prevents Probate Problems

There are some things in life that you don’t get to “do over”.  Estate Planning can be one of those things.

I understand that people are reluctant to consult with attorneys because they are concerned about the cost.  And the internet has made us all experts in things we know nothing about (and I am sometimes as guilty of this as the next person), but as a friend and colleague of mine is fond of saying “Law is not a DIY project.”, and nowhere is this more true than in the area of estate planning.

In over a decade of practicing law, I have gotten to deliver the bad news to surviving spouses, adult children, and even grandchildren that their recently deceased loved one’s brilliant idea to save money by finding a form Will on the internet will instead cost them money, and in some cases, ends in a much different result than intended.  That is one of the things about my job that is not much fun.

I recommend that everyone has a Will, and that they have an attorney help them prepare it.  I don’t care if you’re single with no children.  I don’t care if your children have grown, and your spouse is deceased.  I don’t care if you have children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.  If you own anything, you should have a Will, because even if you don’t own real estate, and your estate is small enough to dispose of with an Affidavit of Successor, you should have a Will, if only to make it clear to your friends and family who you want to have in charge and who you want to inherit your possessions.  But if it is worth doing, it is worth doing right.  Washington doesn’t have complicated rules regarding Wills and Codicils, but failing to satisfy the requirements set forth in the statutes may result in a document that is invalid, or that has to be authenticated, sometimes years after the fact, before a Court will admit the Will to the probate. And if your Will is invalid, then your estate will be distributed according to statute, rather than the way you intended and set forth in the Will.

I understand that cost is an issue for people.  I am sensitive to this concern.  But I’ve also had to sit in a conference room with grieving family members and explain that the Will that someone got on the internet is invalid, and because of statutory succession, a family member that wasn’t intended to get a portion of the estate will now inherit a share, and that the probate process itself is going to be longer and more expensive because without a Will, the Court will be involved with every decision the Administrator will make.   And because many people make a Will, and never again think about it, there is often no “do over”, because once the Testator dies, the Will cannot be changed.  If you love your family enough to plan ahead, please, love them enough to do it correctly.


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Filed under It Ain't Perry Mason, Pieces of the puzzle, Planning, Probates and Estates

Always Learning…

I was helping out on the grounds at church this morning, and my pastor and I got talking about the things that school doesn’t teach you about either of our professions.  And I told him that one of the things about doing estate and probate work is that I bring clients face to face with their own mortality.  But the lesson they didn’t teach in law school is that they also bring me face-to-face with mine.

You expect that you will deal with people dying in this line of work, but nothing prepares you for how you feel about it when you actually liked them, or came to consider them as friends.  Or how you’ll feel when you watch their kids squabble over what was left behind, and end up squandering the estate left to them with love, and the hopes that it would be a blessing, rather than a curse.  It isn’t much of a legacy, and there have been times when I have been glad that some of these clients and friends didn’t live to see what knuckleheads their children turned out to be.

It isn’t always doom and gloom.  I’ve seen some remarkable acts of kindness and reconciliation, some recognized as such, and some not so much, but it helps me to maintain the perspective that some people can’t help it.  And in some cases, Mom and Dad knew, and planned accordingly.

Being an attorney, you get used to keeping people’s secrets, and when it comes to family, some of them are doozies.  But when you see the effect of some of these secrets up close, you realize that they aren’t really secrets at all, but just the individual manifestations of problems that some people want to pretend society doesn’t have, or that society is capable of “fixing” by itself, with yet another law, or regulation, as if addressing the behavior is the same thing as addressing the cause of the behavior.   But then, if law school taught these things, maybe our professional role would be much more about counsel than it would be about law, and there are days when I’m not so sure that some members of our tribe are equipped for that, either.  But that is an observation for another time.

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Filed under It Ain't Perry Mason, Logic Isn't Always The Life Of The Law, Pieces of the puzzle, Probates and Estates, The Practice