Saturday, October 01, 2005

Stupid Non-Lawyers!

We are discussing formalities required for a valid will in my Estates and Trusts class. This has involved reading several cases in which a testator attempts to fulfill the requirements of his or her state, but fails on some technicality or another. In one case, the testator was elderly and quite infirm. He went to his bank, where he was on friendly terms with several employees, to have the signing of his will witnessed by two people, as required by the law in his state. However, due to his physical limitation, a bank employee carried the will across the room to a second employee for signature, in an effort to help this poor old man out. Because the two witness signatures were not made in the simultaneous presence of the testator (who needed to either actually sign in their presence or to verify that the signature was his in their presence), the will was invalidated. The following are some of the comments of my esteemed classmates:

“Couldn’t you sue the bank for screwing up?”

(Yes, because suing someone is always the right answer and bank employees are, in fact, experts who always know all of the intricacies of state law governing wills.)

“I mean, it’s so simple to just fulfill the requirements.”

(The mere words on the page fail to convey the utter contempt with which this was uttered. I personally fail to see how you can expect a layperson, acting without a lawyer—as the people in the cases we read were—to glean the simple requirements from the dense legal language of the typical statute, even if he knew where to find the statute. You might, of course, argue that it was stupid to proceed without the assistance of a lawyer, but when even Wal Mart sells “make your own will” kits, I can certainly understand how someone might think that they could save themselves a chunk of change by doing it themselves.)

“Don’t have a party with your friends to have your will signed!”

(Maybe there’s something wrong with me, but I kind of like that idea. Kind of like a wake, but you get to be there for it. You know, eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die and all that good stuff.)



At 2:08 PM , Blogger RitMeyer said...

I actually find that facinating, maybe it's because I am in the investing field and deal with things like this often.


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