Last May, we challenged estate lawyers to help create or improvetheir States’ online probate websites. Like the legal reform groupHALT, we believe that Americans needing to probate an estateshould be able find resources online that will allow them to completethe probate process without a lawyer (or, to come to the well-informedconclusion that a particular case is too complicated and requires theuse of a lawyer)..[Note: HALT has taken some of this information down from its website.]In its National Probate Web Site Survey, HALT found last year thatVermont probate courts offers the best self-help website, and that onlyf/k/a endorsed HALT’s statement that:“Probate is not the complex, intimidating process manypeople believe it to be. For years HALT has encouragedstates to simplify their probate process- especially for smallestate administration. Simplifying procedures and providingassistance to non-lawyers would make probate more ‘user-friendly’ and help more people avoid unnecessary legal costs.We applaud Vermont’s steps in this direction and urge allstates to follow its lead.”We still agree with HALT, but are not surprised that estate lawyersmight have a different opinion (e.g., weblogger Joel A. Schoenmeyer‘sbelief that “not hiring an attorney is usually a bad idea”). What issurprising, however, is learning from Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blogare requiring that applicants hire lawyers in order to probate a will(unless the applicant is the sole beneficiary).Professor Gerry W. Beyer at WTE-ProfBlog, first brought this to theattention of the weblog world on Feb. 16, 2006, after receiving a heads-and the follow–up post). At WTE-Prof Blog, Prof. Hatfield has alsodone an excellent job outlining the statutory and constitutional reasons“Why An Attorney Cannot be Required to Probate a Will.” Death & Texashas also weighed in, saying the same is very likely to be true in Illinois.Prof. Hatfield and Lawyer Schoenmeyer have a very good point thatpro se parties can make probate court messy. As Hatfield puts it:“The judge can hold a pro se litigant to the same standardsof practice (100+ cases to that effect) but cannot require herto hire a lawyer. I don’t blame the probate court judges: Iwouldn’t want to hand-hold pro se litigants either. But thejudge’s remedy is to rule against them when they make mistakes,not deny them access to the judicial system because they findthem annoying. This is not mythical Judge Roy Bean libertarianTexas justice; quite its opposite.”The f/k/a Gang thinks we need a much more positive approach to thepro se applicant in probate court (or any court). In Feb. 2004, we quoteda New Hampshire report on pro se litigants (“Challenge to Justice,” Jan.2004, pdf) that has the correct attitude. The Report ackowledges that“They come into their court, on their own, with a conflict or change intheir lives, and they expect a resolution. That is their constitutional right,”and that:“All of the suggestions within this report however, are groundedon the single principle that meaningful access to justice in today’sworld means a clear recognition by those involved in the systemthat many of our constituents want to go it alone when they cometo court. Our obligation is to give these citizens the help theywant, need and deserve.That brings us back to our opening above, and our 05/05/05 post.The public in every State, is entitled to user-friendly information that allowsan individual access to probate justice without a lawyer. With such infor-mation, many individuals will surely choose to hire a lawyer, but those whodo not do not become second-class citizens and supplicants, and theysurely are not lepers who need to be barred from court.Vermont’s probate website scored the highest in HALT’s survey,because:“consumers can find a wealth of information about probate,including a step-by-step guide to administering and settling anestate, links to local probate courts, links to necessary formsand instructions for using them, and a complete explanationof Vermont’s special rules for expedited small estate adminis-tration.”With that model, bar associations, state court administrations, lawschools, and other members of the legal community can and mustcreate similar services in every state. Once, a quality website and/orat-court assistance program is provided, the “problems” faced byprobate judges in dealing with pro se parties will be greatly reduced.Probate judges and clerks will be able to point to such resourcesand insist that pro se litigants make use of them. But, they will notbe able to bar the courthouse doors to the people who own the courts.her estatedividingthe childrenafter his deaththe width of ourfavorite pathspring cleaning
leaving the rosin
on papa’s fiddle.“her estate” – The Loose Thread; Modern Haiku XXXII:1;“after his death” – Selected Poems of W.F. Owen“spring cleaning” tiny words (March 15, 2004)HALT has compiled a Best Practices summary which highlights specific actionsstate court administrators can take to improve the content and user-friendlinessof their web sites.Click here for the Best Practices.Click here for the Survey’s Grading Criteria.Click for local probate court Contact InformationClick to learn about small estate non-probate proceduresupdate (March 14, 2006): Joel Schoenmeyer is not exactly convincedthat lawyerless probate is a good idea. You’ve got to shoot your waypast an army of strawmen (and worse-case-scenarios) to read the entirepost. Click for his Thoughts.follow-up (March 15, 2006): I have a bit more time to respond today to Joel’spost. He says HALT is inconsistent in saying both: “Probate is not complex”and ”For years HALT has encouraged states to simplify their probate process.”HALT would have been more precise had they said:“Probate does not need to be a complex and intimidatingprocess — certainly not in most cases. . . . . “Joel also faults HALT for giving Connecticut a good score, despite itsprobate system having a bad reputation. HALT was not surveying orscoring the entire system, only the quality of each state’s website as asource of information about the probate process.Using the guild member’s ”we’re here for your protection” argument, estate LawyerSchoenmeyer then seems to suggest that no estate lawyer has ever swindled a client.(but see) He also asserts that probate reformers know “the price of everything and thevalue of nothing,” and would not be “willing to pay more in taxes to get the things theywant?” Of course, one does not have to know the value of everything to know thatthe price of a particular service is often simply too high. And, as for the tradeoffs, mostconsumer advocates that I know would gladly pay more taxes to improve the court system(even though we’re usually not anywhere near as wealthy as those trying to hold on to theirprivileged position). That is especially true when the improved system may, over time, requirefewer resources, and the users of the system will often be able to avoid significant legal fees.update (March 16, 2006): At Death & Taxes, Joel Schoenmeyer posted on this topic againyesterday with “Pro Se Probate: Some Final Thoughts” (March 15, 2006). Since he haspreviously stated that applicants should have the right to appear pro se, he doesn’t thinkhe has to answer the question whether they should also have the right to be provided withuser-friendly court websites that adequately assist them in that process. He does suggestthat pro se wannabees head over to their county’s law library. The post also lumps all“probate reformers” together, so that he doesn’t have to deal with HALT’s proposals. Ofcourse, you should read the entire post. Here is part of a reply Comment that I postedthere this morning:CommentJoel, the Illinois probate court system (like most across the country) treatspro se applicants as lepers or nuisances. It woefully fails to meet the standardsoutlined by HALT in its Best Practices Guide for Probate Court Websites.HALT is well aware that many states have their probate services provided atcounty or circuit court levels. That is why it provides a page with links to stateand local courts.Using local administrative units in no way prevents the central court administra-tion for each state (perhaps with the help of the local estate bar?) from developingmaterials thatcan be used at the local level (pehaps achieving a useful uniformity).Of course, local courts and bar associations might also decide to take the lead,creating resources that could become the model throughout the state.Attempting to lump HALT in with less responsible or capable “reformers” is sort ofsilly. HALT has existed since 1978, and has over 50,000 dues-paying members,along with a staff of attorneys and paralegals who believe “that all Americans shouldbe able tohandle their legal affairs simply, affordably and equitably.” It does much morethan probate-related issues. Its many “Reform Projects challenge the legal establish-ment to improve access and reduce costs in our civil justice system at both the stateand federal levels.”My original post on probate was headlined “Whose Court is It?” My answer is thatprobate, like all courts, belongs to The People, not The Lawyers or The Judges.flag on the coffin . . .her gloves off to holdthe child’s hand tightestate auction–can’t get my hand back outof the cookie jarfrom School’s Out (Press Here, 1999)“complaint BillN”
March 13, 2006
Maybe I should reconsider yesterday’s assertion that I do not tend
to be envious. Only a small amendment is needed, though.
You see, the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines envy as:
“painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by
another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage.”
“a feeling of grudging admiration and desire to have something possessed
From the perspective of those two definitions, I must confess that (1) I have
lately “envied” people with good memories; and (2) for quite awhile, I have
been painfully aware that the children of my friends Bert and Esther Foer
are a few decades (or maybe a lifetime or two) ahead of me in the “achieve-
she says she’ll have . . .
from Quiet Enough
These factors came together today, when I saw the Washington Post
article: ”D.C. Writer Gives Unforgettable Performance: USA Memory
Championship Winner Entered Contest as Research for Book.” March
13, 2006. It seems that, without really trying much, 23-three-year-old
Joshua Foer won the U.S. Memory Championship, on Saturday in NYC.
I’m pleased for him, of course, and pleased to see, that this has not gone
to Josh’s head:
“Although Foer set a national record for memorizing a shuffled
deck of cards — one minute and 40 seconds — the world record,
he said, is 30 seconds. “I can’t even turn over the cards in 30
seconds,” he said.”
Yes, there is a touch of envy in my heart right now. As his father has
already pointed out, however, it will now be much more difficult for Josh
to give excuses about having forgetten tasks he should be performing as the
webmaster and Chief Information Officer of the American Antitrust Institute.
If I could remember a few, I might tell you the embarrassing memory lapses
I had over this past weekend. As I’m fairly sure I’ve said before: peridementia
is not a pretty thing.
Bert and Esther’s other children are New Republic editor and
both of whom have been discussed in prior posts at this website.
Bert is founding president of the American Antitrust Institute. Esther
is the good-looking, brainy and talented parent.
late night –
a waitress repeats
the list of pies
who will finish
(with a nod to Tom Painting)
the pretty one’s name –
tip of my tongue
Happily, I have not forgotten how much
I like the one-breath poetry of John Stevenson:
getting some of my thoughts
into the lifeboats
hoping the symptoms
jury room -
in a discarded crossword
deadly sins: envy