... 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.|