Monday, November 23, 2020

Get A Lawyer

... is all you can do when you need something enforced in the law. And before you get a lawyer, set aside 5 figures of cash, or more, to feed said lawyer. In my neck of the woods, they run $400 an hour.

The lawsuit against my parents' estate has been settled and fully recorded in court, so I can now share some of the wisdom and some of the wounds. I learned quite a bit from this ghastly exercise, so I thought I might blog about it in the hopes that some of you can avoid what happened to us.

Short take: What I learned is that you probably can't, but let's share the story anyway.

The suit was brought by a drug-addict relative, we'll call him Fried, who thought he deserved a bigger piece of the pie. Having zero cash, he still found a lawyer, we'll call him Scum, who was willing to work for part of the take. 

Lesson 1: All the lawyers in your community know each other. They've worked together or faced off in court. Scum was universally regarded as a scumbag. He had accumulated a long list of disciplinary punishments from local judges. So what? He was still a lawyer and could file papers. That's all you need to attack someone.

My father had been severely burned as the executor of his mom's estate a few decades earlier. Determined to save me from this, he consulted the best trust attorneys he could find and together, they wrote what they thought was a tightly-locked document.

Lesson 2: There are no tightly-locked documents, only documents that are strong, but still subject to indirect artillery fire. Like the suit that Fried brought.

Scum did not attack the trust directly, he attacked wife kitteh and me. He claimed elder abuse and manipulation. That meant that, had this gone to court, we would have had to defend ourselves from our own money and couldn't use the trust's funds to pay our lawyers. He had no proof, he just made the accusation in a court filing.

And so it began.

Clever as foxes, my father and his trust attorney wrote the trust such that anyone contesting it in any way would be disinherited. They then left Fried enough money to make its loss painful, thinking it would deter him from attacking me. It didn't. Had the lawyers involved told us, none of us would ever have expected it to protect us.

Lesson 3: Words don't mean what they say. The trust said, in plain English, that if you contested it, you were automatically disinherited. Hahahaha! What a laugh. In order to make this stick, the executor of the trust would have to ... get a lawyer. That's right, the clear language of the trust was not going to be enforced by the court unless I counter-sued Fried. At $400 an hour. Not gonna happen.

Just like the Supreme Court cases on abortion and gay marriage, which took matters out of voters' hands, local judges are members of the Elite and they look down in scorn on the Normals. "You pathetic, little peasants, you think you know what you want, but we know better. We rule over you and will tell you how things will work regardless of your stated wishes." Over time, case law, built on precedents, accreted all manner of unspoken rules such that the words of a trust meant less than the whims of long-dead judges.

What this meant to us was that Fried's lawsuit was never going to go to trial unless we forced it by spending upwards of $100,000 and two years defending ourselves. Like the "justice" system cares. No, it's all designed to go to settlement. You'd be an idiot not to settle. Enforcing my parents' well-crafted wishes? Nope. Get bent, you little worms.

And so we settled. Fried got more coin than the trust had allotted him. What else could we do? The whole suit was idiocy from the start as Fried's share of the estate had increased over time at the expense of mine. That meant he had no standing to sue as there were no damages to him. That made no difference at all. If we wanted to make a case on that, we'd have to ... keep our lawyers at $400 an hour and stay in court.

So a lawsuit with no basis against a trust explicitly written to punish such attacks resulted in a payday for Scum and Fried, 5-figures of cost to us and 6 months of time lost, not to mention plenty of stress and unhappiness on our end.

Lesson 4: If it's written anywhere in the law or in an agreement, it only means as much as you're willing to defend after you ... get a lawyer.

I don't know why I was surprised. I've seen plenty of examples of law enforcement blowing off minor crimes because it's not worth going to court to apply the law. Dig this story from SF where reductions in shoplifting penalties are driving stores to close.


Anonymous said...

I was lucky that our family didn't fight much, though there were some bruised feelings. I had a finance teacher who said he always knew how long a bankruptcy would take, it was always just long enough for the lawyers to consume all the assets. Bleak House always comes to mind:

“The one great principle of the English law is, to make business for itself. There is no other principle distinctly, certainly, and consistently maintained through all its narrow turnings. Viewed by this light it becomes a coherent scheme, and not the monstrous maze the laity are apt to think it. Let them but once clearly perceive that its grand principle is to make business for itself at their expense, and surely they will cease to grumble.” Charles Dickens

Mostly Nothing said...

When my Mom died,we didn't fight at all. Everything was split 3 ways, and we all gave her church a sizable donation at her wish.

On a more important note, when the world comes to its senses and makes me King, this will be fixed, after we deal with all the messes in sports...

Unknown said...


I don't know if you are the right person for me to contact. But I take my chances.

I read this story

I think I might be adopted from this orphanage in kingisepp Russia.

And I have some questions. Could you please contact me on my email

Take care!


One Brow said...

Wow, that must have been rough. I hope that ends his involvement in your ife.

Ohioan@Heart said...

Anonymous - it is like that old ‘joke’.

Back in the old west there was a small town with one lawyer. He barely had enough business to stay alive. Then one day a second lawyer moved into the town. After that they were both really busy and made lots of money.

Foxfier said...

Short of serious lawsuit reform-- not quite loser pays, but perhaps something like a counter-suit for costs and damages if it's a harassment lawsuit, possibly including the lawyer if THEY do it, too.

I know it doesn't help.

I don't have a way to help.

Mostly Nothing said...

Reform like that makes sense. But obviously will never happen. Since lawyers are the ones, generally, who make the laws.

Seems like everything they pass, exempts themselves. Like robo-callers are allowed for political campaigns.

Unknown said...

Good morning-- Don shared some post with me from you--All I can add is to say how sorry to hear of this matter and having gone thru it after Dick died under stand so will what you went thru.. My heart aches for people who think things will go well and don't need any other heart ache in their family but when it comes to money--GREED ARRIVES... Just know that you and your were always near by and helped your parents.. Those away missed out on time and memories. Joanne...