Legal education and lessons learned watching cases and people going through them
I saw Knives Out on Saturday. It was brilliant. I loved it. And don't worry. No spoilers here (but if you don't want to know anything about the movie until after you see it, you should stop reading now).
I was excited to see it because the trailers feature what I have for some time referred to as the "dramatic reading of a will" scene. You know the one. The family's all there. The lawyer is there. And there is a dramatic reading of the will. Chaos ensues. Conflict. Drama. Delightful cinema. I wondered how this one would go.
I was not disappointed. It was spectacular. Meaning it was spectacular cinema. According to Rotten Tomatoes, I'm not alone. Critics and audience members alike find Rian Johnson's whodunnit a delightful romp. I'll go see it again. You should, too. It's fun.
But you should know that it's just cinema. Duh. But too many people think that the "dramatic reading of a will" is real. We "learn" things from that scene that too often people accept as true....
True story: A man dies. He has a will. In his will, he names two beneficiaries. Two people are going to get his stuff. Pretty simple, right?
Because when all you have in place is a simple will, that means a probate case. And that means court requirements. For example, you must give notice of the case and the will to all of your heirs.
For most people, that's pretty straightforward. Your kids are your heirs. And if they've died before you, then their kids (your grandkids) are your heirs. But what if you, like the man in our story, have no kids.
Then your parents are your heirs. But what if you, like the man in our story, are elderly and your parents died long ago?
Then your siblings are your heirs. But what if you, like the man in our story, have 11 siblings, but you're the last one living?
Then we look to your siblings' kids, and their kids, and their kids, etc. With11 siblings and a family history and dynamic like that, you can see where this is going.
On this Halloween day, when everyone is dressed as ghouls and goblins and talking about death and scary things, I thought I'd let you know 13 truly scary things that really happen all the time to innocent people and their families after someone dies in real life.
The courthouse can be a real scream if you don't know what actually happens there. Ask yourself if you want these horrors to plague your kids and loved ones when you're gone. They are all real. I've seen them all in the real world. Don't let these things happen to you.
1. Your family (usually your kids) pays thousands of dollars in legal fees unnecessarily. When someone dies either without a plan or with a will, there is a court case called probate. Yes, there is a probate case when you have a will. A lot of people don't know that. Some probate cases are simple. Some are complicated. Some become nightmares. Most people hire a lawyer to help them. It's a lot easier that way.
Most lawyers bill by the hour. Just last...
A lot of people think estate planning is for the old or the rich. "I have a young family and not very many assets," I hear people say sometimes. Don't cheat yourself or your family just because you haven't yet "arrived" in your financial life or because your life is filled with "childlike" activities.
I have a young family, too. See?
Here's some information to start you thinking about it . . . .
Is Your Family “Too Young” to Need an Estate Plan?
If you are a family with small children, your day-to-day is probably a mix of wiping spills, picking up toys, and somehow stumbling towards the end of the day hoping your kids are fed, bathed, and in one piece! Each day can seem exhausting and time may seem scarce. Estate planning is probably not at the top of your priority list. And you might...
The dramatic reading. The lawyer opens his briefcase or top desk drawer and takes out the folded parchment paper. It is the Will. All the family is there. Some look worried. Some look smug. Some look guilty. (Some are.)
The lawyer begins. "I, Now-Dead-Patriarchal-or-Matriarchal-Figure, declare this to be my Last Will and Testament. I bequeath [some small item of nominal significance] to [the lowly servant or nobody-relative]. And then the fun begins. The money goes to one child. The property goes to another. The business to another. The spouse takes (or is left out of the mix) in a big way.
The meeting descends into chaos. There is an argument. Then a fight. A stabbing or a gunshot. A plot twist. One of the daughters was abused. One of the sons is illegitimate. One of the others is a complete fraudster. The spouse is the murderer. And we can't wait for episode two.
This delightful scene is what most people rely on for their knowledge of estate planning. "Of course," everyone...
We call our two youngest kiddos "the Littles" because, well, they're little. And we have three teenagers who aren't little. The picture above was taken right around last Christmas-time just a few weeks after Aidan was born. Dad and Mom weren't sleeping. But Dad caught a short nap with the two Littles. A moment of precious peace. I love times like that. They seem so rare.
It's nearly a year later, and everywhere I go I'm hearing about the upcoming Holidays. The mad rush to get the best deals on Black Friday, or Cyber Monday, or whatever (I can never keep track). And I keep thinking, "I don't want this year to be a crazy year." I want it to be simple. And meaningful. I want to have some more nap time with the Littles. And maybe some real quality time with the Bigs. How do I do that?
It seems to me that part of what turns the holiday season into chaos is the lack of a plan. Things keep getting thrown at us. Our friend hosts a party. Our work hosts a party. Something goes on sale. One...
On Saturday, I was visiting a public county park on a lake. I was driving our Honda Odyssey minivan with my wife and four of my five kids. The Sheriff's office was there conducting a "random alcohol check."
"Hi," said the friendly police officer outside the park entrance as we were waiting in line to pay the $7 parking fee. "We're just conducting a random alcohol check today. Do you have any alcohol with you?"
I know my rights, so I know that I don't have to answer that question, but I figure it doesn't matter, and there's no reason to cause a stir unnecessarily, so I respond with a smile: "We don't even drink," and my kids add loudly from the back seat, "We're Mormons!" I figured that would be the end of it. It wasn't.
"I'd just like to go ahead and check your car, then. Is that okay?" he asked. It was so subtle. It was so unassuming. My wife said, "sure" at the same time that I said, "no," with a furrow in my brow. The inconsistency was not lost on the police officer,...
Time and time again, I see it play out personally and professionally: Whatever you track improves. Want to lose weight? Track your exercise. Want to get control of your time? Track how you're spending it. Want to have more money? Track your income and spending. (There's a reason that budgeting and financial planning works.)
When I track my time reading books, I read more books. When I track my time with my family, I spend more time with my family. When I track how many pushups I do, I do more pushups. Anything I want to increase or improve, I track it. And in virtually every case, my results are positive.
Why is that? It's because to track something, you have to give it proper attention. And when you give something proper attention, you think about it even when you're not thinking about it. Your brain goes to work on it even when you're doing other things. Ideas come in your sleep or in the shower. (I've solved many of the worlds problems in the shower.) Resolve strengthens....
Have you read Marie Kondo's book, The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up? I have, and it really was life-changing. Following her approach, you hold everything you own and ask yourself whether it "sparks joy." If it doesn't, you thank it for its service and get rid of it.
My mother, and many of the older generation, struggle with this approach. The current generation values minimalism and portability over sentimentality and tradition, and it shows in how we deal with our "stuff." While Ms. Kondo's approach is very popular with the rising generation, the aging population, while often downsizing and acknowledging the need to cull some of their possessions, nevertheless laments the potential loss of many of those things they have cherished and preserved their whole lives for their children and other heirs.
What are we to do with the china sets, furniture, heirlooms, and other belongings that have been treasured by our parents? As the baby boomer generation ages,...
Planning for natural disasters is more than just stocking up on canned food and water. In a natural disaster, food and water will keep you alive, but how will you rebuild your life if your home and community are devastated? Here are some simple tips that will help you get back on your feet should disaster strike.
Make sure you have enough insurance. Basic homeowner’s insurance typically won’t cover damage caused by natural disasters like floods or earthquakes. You might need to purchase additional insurance to cover these types of events. If you’d like an objective review of the types and amounts of insurance you have, contact us, we can help.
Keep a thorough inventory of what you own. Having up-to-date information on your personal belongings—especially valuables—will make getting them replaced using your insurance claim easier. Pictures of your belongings stored in the cloud is one great way to handle this in advance of any natural...