August: Ask an Attorney #3

If you are new to the Ask an Attorney Series – welcome! Check out what this is, as well as the answer to my first question by clicking here. Check out my answer to the second question by clicking here. Don’t forget to leave your questions in the comment box; they may be featured in my next post!

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This is my face just minutes after finding out I passed the Bar Exam! Look at that smile: I had not idea….

THIRD QUESTION: Why are attorneys so doom and gloom? They are always looking at the worst in a situation.

Oh, boy! If only I could turn off the “risk-o-meter” constantly spinning in my head. This weekend, I was walking into a local grocery store to pick up items for my mother’s birthday. Just before entering, my husband pointed out to me a small vegetable patch just outside the door: a few tomato plants and what could be zucchini or pumpkin greens. My immediate thought was, “How cute. I wonder if they sell those to the public?” One split-second later, my thought was, “Oh no, do they have a license to sell those?? What about the liability!?”

Like insurance agents, attorneys are trained in the depressing art of risk management. They make no guarantees or promises, and in many cases, you never even know if what they do for you was necessary. Attorneys work to prevent and reduce harm to your interests. Their success depends on you following instructions, others doing their part, and a little bit of luck.

Take, for example, the fairly uncomplicated act of writing a will. If you are married in Connecticut, your spouse is not the sole heir of your estate. That means that if you are married and die without a will, your spouse doesn’t automatically get everything. In case it wasn’t obvious, writing a will can be a justifiably gloomy exercise. You have to walk through tons of scenarios that all involve you dying, and some involve just about everyone in your family dying, too. (“Okay, so in case you and your husband die, your sister is dead, and your children are still under the age of 25, who would you like to file the paperwork with the court? And what about if your brother and sister-in-law get divorced?” Yeah, it’s rough.)

But, as noted above, if your don’t have a will, your family could be in a far more complicated circumstance than the awkwardness of determining inheritance if your family endures the worst bus accident in human history. The lesson? When you leave your attorney’s office feeling very depressed, lighten your load by knowing that what you just did was well worth the effort.

Or was it?

See, the truth is, most people don’t die with their spouse. And most people don’t die young. And most people don’t lose two or three of their closest relatives at the same time as their own life is lost. When writing your will, your attorney is trying to protect you and your family against the 0.0000003%* chance that everything in the world goes horribly wrong at once. You will probably never need that kind of protection. But you just might.

In this way, some of what attorneys do is provide insurance. And like insurance, it may not ever be required. But you don’t buy homeowner’s insurance because you think your house will catch on fire. You buy it to protect your interests just in case. A lot of what attorneys do can be characterized the same way, just in case.

Insurance-type work is the bulk of what transactional attorneys to. These are the ones who write and negotiate contracts, agreements, and that pile of paperwork. These are the ones responsible for all that fine print that comes in the box with the electric drill you bought. These are the ones that “drag everything out just to make more money,” and “haggle over ridiculous wording. Who cares?!” (Might have heard these sometime… difficult to recall….)

The truth is, we wish we didn’t have to care. The truth is, we don’t like having to explain why the last draft actually isn’t the final draft – yet again – and why – yet again – the transaction is being delayed and we have to go back to the table. What we are doing is trying to get the deal closed and get you the best possible insurance for the future. And even if none of the scenarios we are imagining ever come to be true, we have to make sure you are protected just in case. [Believe me, we don’t like this dragging out any more than you do.]

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I’ll close with these final thoughts. While much of what attorneys do is try to protect your interests just in case, we can never, ever protect you against everything (especially from yourself). My two least favorite questions to be asked by a client are:

  1. Do I have to do that?
  2. Can they sue me if I do this?

The answers are very simple. 1. You don’t have to do anything, but there will be consequences if you do or do not do something. 2. Nothing we do can ever protect you from being sued. Anyone can sue anyone. Whether or not they win (or even how far they get) is another question.

Attorneys tend to see the world like a chess game, or a flow chart: the outcomes depend on how parties respond to many factors (most outside of our control), as well as the insurance we provided for you up front. Our risk-o-meters are only part of the equation, but an extremely critical one at that.

So instead of bad-mouthing all those long-winded attorneys who “drag things out” and are so pessimistic, recall that we are involved for one purpose and one purpose only: to protect your interests now and down the road from things you can’t even imagine. We ponder the depressing stuff so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.

*not an actual number. Just an illustration.

-D. E. Barbi Bee

Do you have any questions for this attorney? Leave a question in the comment box!

 

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