First, what do I do? I specialize in trusts and estates, which means we do estate planning (drafting wills, trusts, end of life documents, etc), and administration (trust administration, probate, after-death planning). This means I’m really good at my area of laws (trusts, estates, and to some extent, taxes) and know very little about the others.
Also, I shouldn’t have to do this, but I’m a lawyer, and we’re all about covering our asses:
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I hear a lot “Oh, you must have some great stories.” I guess so. The human connection is why I got into estates and trusts. It’s one of the few areas of law where your clients are generally happy to see you – you’re either helping them plan for the future or you’re helping them out when their grieving, making their life easier. So that’s the upside of my job.
The downside is that the combination of grief and greed can drive even the closest families apart, and I see a lot of that. My overwhelming takeaway from this job is that money makes you crazy. Or at least the idea of money.
Although, it’s not just the money. Death tends to bring out the worst in survivors. Small grievances that have built up over time can blow when grief gets the better of them. And it’s often about the weirdest, most insignificant thing. I worked on a case where a multi-million dollar estate was essentially bankrupted by attorneys’ fees because the family kept taking each other to Court over a set of silverware. SILVERWARE. Like they couldn’t have gotten a perfectly nice new set at Bed, Bath, and Beyond without wasting a couple million bucks on fighting about it. But, like I said, money makes you crazy.
I also worked on a case where a vindictive step-son who was disinherited by his stepmother spent more than 10 years pursuing frivolous litigation against the estate just to waste the money there. Since he was a lawyer himself, it wasn’t his money he was wasting on attorneys’ fees, just his time. And by golly, if he wasn’t getting any money, he was going to make damn sure no one else was either. His step-mother died in 2004 and the last we heard from him (in 2015), there was only about $80,000 left in the Estate. Hopefully he’s given up and gone away, but I doubt it. I’m guessing we’ll hear from him again as we try to give that $80,000 to the long awaiting beneficiaries.
There’s an endless number of scenarios I can tell you about that involve family members fighting after someone dies. So here, without any legal justification, I say go hog wild. Make your characters as bitter and vindictive as you like. Trust me, in this case, reality is probably crazier than fiction.