Monday, May 23, 2016

Maybe Senator Setzler didn't get my email...

Update 4/25/2017 - The senator's CONFLICT OF INTEREST (he derives income from his probate-dealing law firm) has now been exposed.

Update 5/25/2016 - Yesterday at 5:19 PM, I received the following e-mail from Senator Setzler:

Mr. Boyd,

Thank you for cantacting me with your support of H.5196 along with your more recent email regarding this same matter. The bill was just recently introduced in April and has not made it to the Senate for review. Any similar legislation along with this legislation will be reviewed by the Senate Judiciary Committee, of which I am not a member. Upon receipt of your email from two weeks ago, I reviewed the language and have been in communication with others. We are in the last several weeks of this legislative session, and my email responses may be delayed relative to this issue. I am, however, inclined to support Representative Bingham's bill.

Nikki Setzler
______________________________________________________________________________

I'll say one thing about Nikki Setzler, the South Carolina state senator from my district who also happens to be a probate attorney: His law firm sure has a nice suite of offices. Plush carpeting, hardwood floors, the works. I was a bit put off when I first saw the note at the front door telling visitors to make sure they didn't have any grease on their shoes, but once I stepped inside...

I can understand a guy lookin' out for his interests.

Monday two weeks ago, I tried to send an e-mail to Senator Setzler, politely inquiring about what he's done, or plans to do, to simplify South Carolina's probate process. I pointed out that uncalled-for complexities have turned the process into a nightmare for anyone attempting to probate an inheritance, and that it takes an average of one year to complete. I also encouraged him to support Kenny Bingham's efforts to give probate courts discretion regarding when to apply South Carolina's 10 year limit on wills.

I didn't expect a very long list of efforts on his part to simplify the process, or even a willingness to support Kenny Bingham's bill. But I can't find any reply whatsoever.

Maybe Senator Setzler didn't get my e-mail.

Then again, probate attorneys in South Carolina must be incredibly busy these days, so maybe the senator simply doesn't have time to acknowledge e-mails. And if that's the case, Senator Setzler, I certainly understand:

Come to think of it, Senator, there are several other things I'd like to get your thoughts on.

When I spoke with an attorney who works in one of your fancy office suites, he implied that the funeral home should have informed me of South Carolina's 10 year limit on wills. Do you and the lawyers in your firm think that would be the appropriate time to discuss such matters?

As I mentioned in my e-mail, the probate process has become a nightmare. In fact, Senator, it has all the trappings of a racket, whereby people struggling through the process of bereavement are treated like dirt.

Tell me, Senator: What is it going to take for the taxpaying public to get some fundamental decency out of this government? Has the time come for massive displays of non-violent civil disobedience? In what sense do we have a democracy when a gang of so-called "legislators" look out for their own selfish interests instead of the legitimate interests of the people they are charged with representing?

I'll try again on the e-mail, with a link to this post, and I'll send a link to Governor Haley on Twitter. Hopefully, they'll both get the message.

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.

Update 5/23/2016 - Many thanks to all those who signaled support as I picketed this afternoon in front of Nikki Setzler's law firm. The senator remains conveniently silent about South Carolina's probate racket.

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 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.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

A closer look at Lexington County Probate Court

Update 4/28/2017 - It's now a matter of public record that Senator Setzler does indeed have a CONFLICT OF INTEREST when it comes to SC's probate racket. He derives income from his probate-dealing law firm.

Self-serving slobs - er I mean attorneys - in the legislature have passed a law prohibiting probate court personnel from giving "legal advice." Kinda vague, but the message is clear: "Drum up as much business as possible for probate attorneys."

Summary of my situation

I initially telephoned Lexington County Probate Court and was told that my mother's will was no longer valid, and I would have to contact an attorney. I told them I wanted to act as my own attorney and was told that I couldn't do so.

I then contacted the attorney who drew up my mother's will. He no longer handled probate matters, and referred me to an attorney in Richland County who offered to resolve my mother's will for $1,800 and my dad's for an additional $700 (I should be able to probate my dad's will myself, but my mother's will has to be probated first). When asked, he said I could represent myself in resolving my mother's will, but he "wouldn't recommend it."

Next, I visited the probate court with my mother's will, explained that an attorney had told me I could represent myself, and was nonetheless again instructed to see an attorney, and I was given a couple of phone numbers for lawyer referral services. And... I was strongly advised to see an attorney in Lexington County.

Right. If yer gonna force folks to hire an attorney, it might as well be one in the county the court is located in. Never mind that any probate attorney in the state is capable of handling the matter.

After I persisted in requesting to represent myself, mention was made of a "Determination of Heirs," the fact that the court had no forms relevant to this, and that in addition to preparing legal documents, there was some sort of requirement that I run a few newspaper ads. Later, I telephoned the court and asked for a standard packet of forms. I noticed a place to explain facts justifying "Tardy Probate," so I went ahead and completed the first form - an application to be appointed personal representative of my mother's estate - had it notarized, and took it to the court...

But alas. The notarized application to be appointed personal representative of my mother's estate - which shouldn't have been necessary anyway since I was named Executor in her will - was refused. I was told that "an attorney will have to be involved," and when I asked court personnel to provide that in writing, my request was refused. Twice.

So I consulted an attorney in Lexington County. In fact, I consulted an attorney in the law offices of my district's senator - and probate attorney - Nikki Setzler. Not that Senator Setzler might conceivably have a conflict of interest when it comes to legislation aimed at simplifying the probate process, but his guy wanted $1,500 plus $275 per hour to probate my mother's estate.

Shortly thereafter, I contacted my district's House representative Kenny Bingham to see if any efforts were underway to eliminate South Carolina's time limit for probating wills, and that led to a bill giving probate courts discretion. The bill remains in committee, but at least it's a start in addressing the probate/trust racket in South Carolina.

Probate racketeering is taking place all across America, and it's the product of a brain-dead, cowardly public that tolerates anything special interests dish out. For anyone out there who still has a sense of fundamental decency and is willing to act on it, here are a few suggestions:

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.

Update 5/13/2016 - Monday of this week, I sent an e-mail to Senator Setzler, asking what he's done, or plans to do, to simplify South Carolina's probate process, and I encouraged him to support Kenny Bingham's efforts. I'm unaware of any response from Senator Setzler. Stay tuned.

Update 5/21/2016 - Still can't find any response from Senator Setzler. 'Course, I realize that probate attorneys in SC must be very busy these days...