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What's Your Number? Hint: You want it to be lower

My oldest son, Liam, is heading back to BYU Idaho for his second year of college. He's a smart kid. In a recent conversation, he commented that about 85% of statistics are completely made up. Like I said, smart kid.

But that's why, for the purpose of making specific decisions, I think statistics can be dangerous. You see, statistics can be manipulated. A number of things matter when developing statistics: How do you define your pool? How do you word the inquiries? How do you define the words? And depending on the answers to those questions (and many more), you can dramatically change the resulting statistics. And so, I'm careful not to rely on statistics too much in making specific decisions.

That said, I LOVE statistics for big picture analysis. Because that's what statistics are really good for—giving us an idea of the big picture. What's generally going on? How are things trending? What is the most likely result in a given set of circumstances?...

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4 nonsense things we learn from Knives Out that are completely wrong and will cost you thousands

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....

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What Do You Do with 140 Heirs?

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?

Wrong.

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.

The man...

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13 Truly Scary Things That Happen All the Time When Someone Really Dies

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...

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"Is It Okay to Search Your Car?"

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,...

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What Do We Do with All the Stuff?

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,...

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Weathering the Storm: How Families Can Plan for Natural Disasters

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...

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One Dark & Stormy Night

I don't do scary movies. I don't do haunted houses. I don't place myself in situations to be scared. I learned my lesson years ago.

One dark and stormy night—I'm not kidding, it really was a dark and stormy night—I found myself at my buddy's empty apartment (we lived in the same complex, and he was out of town) where I had decided, on my own and alone, to watch The Ring. Have you seen that movie? It's the one where the haunted evil devilish womanlike creature crawls out of the TV right after the phone rings. Because I don't watch scary movies, I don't even know if that movie is really considered scary. But I thought it was terrifying!

At the end of the movie, I had to go pee. I turned on every light in the apartment and left the door open. Just in case I needed to run. And then I left my friend's apartment and walked across the dark parking lot in the middle of the night, in the rain, to get to my own place. I thought I was going to be killed on the way....

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If We Go, the Kids Are Screwed

This is my family.

For some time now, my wife and I have been talking about the need to update our estate plan. We did a basic plan about ten years ago before taking a vacation to Japan without the kids. But we knew we had a plan in place, so it just wasn't a priority. Sound familiar?

Because I'm opening an estate planning practice in Washington, I thought I'd better just make sure I was all set myself. Imagine my shock and surprise when I finally pulled out my own plan and found that, if something happened to Kristina and me today, our children would be completely screwed.

I've learned an awful lot in the last ten years of legal practice. Enough to know that my plan from our Japan trip ten years ago would entirely fail today. Our youngest wasn't even around then. What would happen to her? Disaster.

The fact of the matter is that most people's plans are set up to fail. Most estate planning lawyers are simply document preparers, and very few focus on families with young...

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Why Does Law Have to Be Crazy & Extreme?

 

Hollywood certainly feeds the perception that law and lawyers are crazy and extreme and take crazy and extreme positions. Unfortunately this is partly true, but it's less a reflection of all those Type A lawyers than a symptom of our country's adversarial system.

If you find yourself facing a legal issue and someone takes a crazy or extreme position, more often than not, they're posturing, expecting to move to a more reasonable place once everyone has established a starting point for discussion.

Watch the video for more explanation.

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