Monday, May 9, 2016

Former attorney's e-mail shows the direction South Carolina's probate racket is headed

Recently, I got an e-mail from a retired attorney turned probate-reform activist in Illinois. Here are a few excerpts (emphasis mine):

"For years the probate courts have been cesspools. I was not aware of there being a statute of limitations on the probate of testamentary documents, or even the need for one. I was aware that attempts to steal the proceeds of estates has been a national disgrace for a long time.

When I first became a lawyer, I heard a more seasoned lawyer tell his client, "If dad dies, before you call the undertaker, get into the safety deposit box and empty it."

When I asked the question, "why?" I was told that the undertaker put a death notice in the newspaper and the bank sealed the box - it could be reopened only after a representative of the State of Illinois visited the box. In the inspect of the box and inventory by the state in order for the inheritance tax to be assessed, value items usually disappeared. Of course the inspector denied that these items were ever in the box - as the state employee and maybe an assistant were the only ones allowed to examine the box it was their word against yours. You certainly could not search their brief cases.

I then made further inquiry and found that the seasoned lawyer was not the only one who gave that advice or experienced that problem. In fact the advice was quite common and even today most of the people I deal with or dealt with try to avoid keeping fungible items in the box.

No probate is necessary if everyone agrees to the terms of the will and all the legitimate expenses of the decedent are paid.

What is relevant to me is the fact that the probate courts are viewed with such suspicion and fear of fraud. The elder cleansing (guardianship) scandal is so rampant and so venal that people are afraid of the Court, its corruption, and the miscreants who inhabit the same. In a democracy such is intolerable as the Court system is the escape valve of society! We need it to address our legitimate concerns!"

It's way past time for Governor Haley, the SC Policy Council, and mainstream news media to inform the public about South Carolina's probate racket before it gets even worse than it already is.

What YOU can do:

>  Spread the word about the probate/trust racket. Most folks don't find out about the attorney-generated horrors of probate until they are struggling through the bereavement process, and shock value is a key part of the effort to browbeat people into hiring a probate attorney.

>  If you need help with non-probate matters, avoid using attorneys who advertise that they specialize in probate. Many attorneys refuse to get involved in the probate racket, and one of them told me with a wink, "It's a 'highly specialized' area of law."

>  Refuse to be bullied by the attorney-generated horrors of probate into paying attorneys to set up trusts. Probate is financed with tax dollars, and should be an inexpensive, viable alternative to setting up trusts. Executors (now called Personal Representatives) shouldn't need a law degree to probate an inheritance.

>  Cut costs by downloading your own estate documents - especially wills - from the Internet. Paying probate attorneys outlandish fees to "draw up a will" is risky business, because attorney-legislators have a vested interest in nullifying wills.

>  Last - and what certainly shouldn't be least (but probably is) - send "your representatives" an e-mail expressing your sentiments about the probate/trust racket.