Lawyers in estate planning and probate cases sometimes have a unique perspective on families and relationships. Not Tolstoy “every happy family” perspective, but a pretty in-depth perspective nevertheless. That is hardly a secret, it seems that families know it – or at least sense it – most of the time.
Because estate planning and probate law involve (usually) intense emotions. And, as we wrote in our last post, it’s very rarely really about money. It’s about what the money, and/or assets, represent: a connection with the deceased. The lawyers that are part of this process are intimately involved with clients because there is no real way around it. Estate planning and probate sometimes require exploring family histories and emotions. It’s very hard not to do so and still be able to perform our duties.
We are certainly aware of this, but sometimes it takes an outside source to really drive it home. Sometimes it takes a ridiculous outside source to drive it home. I ran across this recently in the most ridiculous place imaginable on cable TV: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
If you’re unaware of Sunny, it’s a … well … it’s hard to explain. It’s Danny Devito and a group of four friends, tow of them twins, who are absolutely horrible people acting horribly all the time.
Sometimes, though, they run across real truths. The picture to the left is from one such show. In this episode the mother of the twins dies and they and their father, Frank, (Danny DeVito) meet in her lawyer’s office to read the will.
It, of course, reads nothing like they expected and they are outraged. Funny enough, but here;s where truth butts in – they take their anger out on the attorney. “I’m very disappointed in you right now,” Dee, one of the twins (the always funny Kaitlin Olson) says at one point.
Frank and Dee tee off on the lawyer. But, here;s the deal, they continually refer to him as if he’s the deceased. “Why would you do that?” “Why are you giving it to him?” “What are you talking about?” “You’re not making any sense.” It gets worse, by the way.
As crazy as it seems and as funny as it is, it still touches on a very real truth – wills represent so much more than property, They represent relationships and in many instances, the will, unfortunately, comes to represent something it was never meant to represent: feelings.
This happens, of course, when people fail to communicate in life. Wills and trusts were never designed to make up for that lack of communication. Lawyers can redress the material consequences of that failure to communicate, but can’t begin to address the emotional consequences.
So, today’s free piece of advice – please talk to one another.
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