Families, Wills, and Probate

We did something we never do last week, we posted a story on Facebook that had nothing to do with probate … but everything to do with families.

It was a story in Golf Magazine, of all things, about the man who just won The Masters, Patrick Reed.  It detailed a series of family events over the years that led to a complete estrangement between Reed and his parents and sister. Reed married in college, the new dynamic split the family and it has stayed that way ever since … and looks like it may last a very long time.

Our point in posting had nothing to do with Patrick Reed’s and his family’s situation. It had everything to do with the fact that no one really knows what anyone else’s family dynamics are and how they affect them and their actions … at least not until something happens that throws a light on them.

Like winning The Masters. Or going through probate.

It is something we discover, often, during the probate process. It may look like heirs are arguing over a prized asset, or the disposition of a business, or who lives in the house, or, even, a seemingly valueless piece of personal property, but, in our experience, it’s about more.

It’s about those long-buried feelings that go way back and have effected family relationships for years, undetected, never spoken about. 

It’s nothing new, of course, people have been people for a very long time. In 1853, Charles Dickens published a nine-hundred page novel that revolved around a single probate case – Jarndyce v. Jarndyce. Bleak House, so aptly named.

He never really outlines much about how it started or what it was really about. The name of the cases, though, gives us the most important clue – it’s obviously two heirs (or two groups of heirs) suing over the distribution of the estate.

As usual with every Dickens novel except A Christmas Carol, there are dozens of characters. During the course of the book the reader discovers that all of them are, in one way or another, touched by Jarndyce v. Jarndyce.

The case consumes almost everyone it touches. When the book starts, Miss Flite has already long since lost her mind; Richard Carstone is distracted with trying to be named the sole heir, he never commits to any other pursuit. There are many others, it doesn’t end well for anyone them.

As a matter of fact, the only character who has a life and simply lives (charmingly) is John Jarndyce – he cannot be bothered with it.

What family argument, slight, insult, and/or event started the case?That’s never really noted. As the case lasted for years, we can, however, assume that the lawyers never tried to figure it out.

Maybe that’s the real tragedy of Bleak House.