September 24, 2010

Think You Don't Need a Lawyer? Better to Ask!!

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When you can find forms for wills, and almost anything else, on line -- and FREE -- and you can copy documents your friends used...why do you need a lawyer?

The documents are worth every penny you paid for them!!

A good example of the danger of writing one’s own legal documents, or copying the documents of another, came up again in a Wikipedia article I checked recently.

On vacation, I had just about finished reading a trilogy of incredible books written by Stieg Larsson. He delivered the drafts to his publisher in 2005, just before he died of a heart attack at age 50 (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest). The books were published posthumously, and, in 2008, made him the #2 selling author in the entire world.

Before his death, Stieg Larsson wrote his own will. Undoubtedly, he was not expecting to die at age 50 -- and expected that all of the smart people surrounding him would make sure that his wishes were implemented. Unfortunately, he did not consult a lawyer, or foresee the need, under Swedish law, to have witnesses for his will. Thus, his Will was not valid under Swedish law, and was rejected by the probate court.

Without a valid Will the State determines who will inherit from a person who dies. In some circumstances it could have been his wife. But though he and the love of his life had lived a “married life” (they lived together for many years as though they were married) they did not marry under Swedish law. Under Swedish law, when a couple marries, their address must become public. Because of the nature of Larsson’s work, he and his girlfriend had many threats against their lives through the years, and did not believe marriage was an option because they could not take a chance on making their addresses public. And, since he was not married, his closest relatives, his father and a brother (who he was not close to) inherited from him and gained control of his estate to the exclusion of the woman he considered his wife.

Missouri, and most other states in the USA also require witnesses to make a Will valid. And, depending on the documents and the states involved, there may be many other requirements to make the Wills legally valid and implement the plans contained in them.

There aren’t very many people whose lives fit into the same box as every other person. It’s worth the time and the money to check with a lawyer to make sure that a legal document will work in your circumstances!

Posted by Peggy S. Hedrick at 2:00pm

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I'm glad you like the books. The last one is largely a swedish legal procedural...what did you think of it?

Professor Charles Hedrick
History, UCSC
Posted by Charles Hedrick on 9/24/2010 at 10:44pm

I’m still reading the third one – am finding it especially disturbing – because I know the reality of the numerous options he is setting up – and found his choices of the procedural settings in his previous books to be surprising and disturbing. I don’t think I could take ten volumes (Wikipedia said there may be outlines for as many as a total of ten).
Posted by
Peggy Hedrick on 9/25/2010 at 7:58am