Monday, September 29, 2008

You Are All Going to Die!

Today I called my sister to discuss my estate. Now, my sister is a very intelligent and realistic person, but even she freaked out that I wanted to talk about what happens after I die. It made her uncomfortable to talk about it, as if just speaking the words would cause me to die. Properly planning for your eventual demise is not fatal. It won’t cause you to die and faster or slower then if ignore it. It’s not like saying the words “colic weather” or something that really does cause bad things to happen!

So face it. You are going to die some day. There is no way around that. It’s going to happen whether you like it or not. Eventually, someone, somewhere will have to deal with your estate. I think that should be you. Only you know what you want for your estate and your animals. You have to tell people what that is and you have to do it certain ways. Over the next few entries I’d like to talk about what those ways are.

1) Do nothing

2) Leave a will

3) Use a trust

4) Use shared ownership in your property

Which method you chose will depend on how much control you want over your animals' well being after you die (there, I said it again, die) and how much money is in your estate. The methods vary by how you fund your estate and what tax consequences your heirs or beneficiaries will face. Like death, taxes are also unavoidable. So you are all gonna die and somebody, somewhere is going to pay taxes because of it.

Tomorrow we will start with the most common form of estate planning: Doing nothing and leaving it all up to someone else to decide. If you own animals, I do no recommend this method.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

I'll Sue You for saying that About me On-line!

It’s been a week since the great adventure began. And during that week nothing much has happened at all. I feel sort of foolish spending so much time on preparation.

I posted some internet ads and almost immediately got some responses, but they were not potential clients, they were job applicants. Within 3 hours I had two hopeful employees and 3 offers for free advertising from unsolicited sources. No potential clients at all.


I see this all the time on bulleted boards and e-mail exchanges between strangers. Its always in all CAPs and it always uses the wrong terminology. I have yet to find out who these lucky attorneys are that live comfortably on retainers for random insulted chat room attendees, but I know it ain’t me or anyone I know.

These “lawyers” often tell their clients that the written words on a forum are slander and that a bad review or someone’s opinion are fantastic grounds for a HUGE lawsuit. I am not saying these lawsuits do not happen or that some remarks are not actionable, but if they happened at the rates we read about I would be rich. All my friends would be rich. Those two job applicants I heard from on day 1 would be employed and probably studying for the LSAT right now so they too could be milking the internet cash cow of rampant slander suits.

These threats really scare some people. They wonder of they too need to hire an attorney and agonize over loosing the farm for posting X shipped my horse to the wrong place or Y couldn’t jump their way out of a wet paper bag.

How can you judge when you really have a lawsuit to worry about? Wait for the letter from a real attorney on the firm letterhead. Google the allegations made against you. Do they even meet any standards for legally valid claims against you? Is the terminology correct? Does this lawyer or Law firm even exist? Googling is amazing. It really can help you answer these questions.

If you do your research and someone actually has a real attorney and valid claims against you, what do you do next? Read the demand letter. What are they demanding? Do they want you to take down your post or change your story? Is the tone nice or nasty? Is there a deadline and some mention of exactly how this harmed their client? Is that harm in any way likely or even related to what you said? If it is, then seriously consider recanting unless you are 100% positive you are telling the objective truth. If not, then wait for the next move—The complaint.

If someone wants to sue you they have to file a complaint in some court and make some claims. If you get 3 demand letters in a row its more likely than not the client is trying to save the tens of thousands of dollars required to actually litigate by scaring you silly. If they really want to sue you they have to pay a filing fee and get serious about opening up their wallets and paying someone like me. Take a complaint seriously and at that point lawyer up yourself if its not in small claims court. You will have deadlines and rules to follow, so don’t wait until the day before it expires to call around and find a lawyer.

DO not call up the lawyer who sent you the letter and tell them your story so you can shame them into seeing how virtuous and right you are. They do not care. That is the point of a lawsuit—to represent their own client and make their side of the story the truth. That lawyer has a duty to fight for his side and doesn’t give one hoot what you have to say expect to gain valuable knowledge from your unrepresented self gaining him free discovery and a reason to hate you too. Don’t make it personal. The lawyer knows the facts will become apparent during the legal process and will not drop the case because you say it ain’t so. If you are getting sued then your version of the facts and your defenses belong in your answer—not on a short tempered cell phone call to the legal representive of the enemy. The answer is sent to the court and the lawsuit is on.

Or you could just take whatever you said back when you get the demand letter. Or when you get the complaint. Or work things out in a non-judicial manner. Is it really worth $40K to be able to say that A. Horsedealer ripped you off? Of course I think it is, I am the one getting your $40K! But seriously, now that you have it out of your system and you have apologized does it really change the fact that google caches everything ever posted on-line forever and most of your audience can read between the lines? If you are telling the truth you have an absolute defense, but its still gonna cost you and arm and a leg.

If you were not telling the truth and did post defamatory lies or intentionally caused financial or emotional harm to an innocent identifiable party, then you deserve to get sued and some lawyer will still take your case anyway. We have to. Its our job. The party in the wrong cannot be sued if no lawyer will step up to defend the other side. You know this stuff. You watch TV and see the criminal defense lawyers explaining this all the time.

I personally admire those among you willing to spend large amounts of cash to defend the truth and protect others for becoming a victim of a shady dealer. I will probably even give you a discount because I know how hard it all is both emotionally and financially to stand up for truth and honestly and justice, but its still gong to cost you and arm and a leg. And half your friends.

The key things to remember are 1) Is there an identifiable party or did you say ARABHORSEYLVER is a big fat meanie and not to be trusted. 2) Were your comments the truth or your opinion based on the truth? 3) Is the party threatening to sue actually doing anything about it like filing a complaint or hiring a lawyer? 4) Can you realistically afford to defend your honor? 5) Are you willing to be shunned by half your social circle for defending your rights? 6) Are you willing to spend the next several years of your life waiting to see if your version of the story is the winning one or if you will be broke and disillusioned on top of it? And lastly 7) Sometimes even the good side loses.

You can be 100% in the right and still lose because its No Law Day in that court and you just had bad luck. Law is not a science, its an art. Just like you can have a bad trip in the hunter ring on a very good horse you can have one off day in court and lose anyway. If you can’t afford to lose then do not bother to fight. It can happen and it can happen to you. In this day and age when random comments posted on-line can become international events overnight, its always wise to understand names can hurt just as much as sticks and stones. Even if you were not good side.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Adventure Begins!

Day 1.

I have officially opened for business today. I am a new attorney trying to go solo with an Animal Law practice in Charming Aiken, SC. I have an operating budget of zip. Nada. Zero. Can I use my legal super powers to bring truth and justice to the local animal owners? Perhaps. Perhaps not, but I have a stack of McDonalds gift certificates and enough sweet feed and Dog food for a month.

I spent the last 2 months studying the trust and probate codes of South Carolina and all the relevant case law on Honorary Trusts for Pets. Of course I also re-read the entire code of legal ethics, business practices and civil procedure. Do I feel prepared? No, I am over prepared. I am the only person I know who has read the code in the last year in its entirety. Nobody has a clue what I am referring to.

Of course since its only been in the code for less then 2 years there is no case law yet, but someone’s got to start the ball rolling. Any day now. . . . . .

I have decided to not offer any testamentary estate planning for Pets except trusts. There are too many ways that can go wrong and with the new laws that allow the state to enforce the trusts its really the only way to make sure your animal is cared for in the manner you desire. As it turns out, you cannot ask that your animals be put down in your will when you pass. Once this was random case law in dusty old books that nobody paid attention to, but now it can be googled in less then 5 minutes by anyone. It doesn’t take a top tier graduate to find all the info they need to invalidate your wishes. Your nosey neighbor can find this info in less time then it took to draft the will.

My trusts are going to cover all anticipated eventualities. With small animals this is easy. With horses its mind boggling. I am quite sure the trusts will end up 50 pages long with so many details worked out in advance, but better safe then sorry. Nobody wants to leave it to a non-animal lover to decide what the trustee meant. Do non-horsefolk even understand that Bahia is not alfalfa??

I am cutting overhead to zilch and trying to keep costs as low as possible so more people can afford my services. Can they get used to no secretary and no oriental rugs? I guess time will tell. The $100 an hour they are saving by talking to me directly should be an incentive, but people do not like change. I might fall into the “too good to be true so it isn’t” category! In addition to low rates I have decided to practice law in plain English and be completely honest. That should go over well. Is the public ready for the truth about the law? Sometimes its not fair and sometimes you lose even when you are right. Will people pay for honesty? I hope so.

Today’s question the horse owning public is “Would you want to provide for your horse to be ridden or shown after you are gone”? Surprisingly so far all the answers are Yes. I guess that makes it a reasonable expense?