What year is it?

It being just a few weeks away from the presidential election, I’ve started to pay a lot closer attention to the twists and turns of the race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. While reading and listening to the rhetoric on both sides, perhaps the most fascinating part of the discussion to me is the speculation regarding what year 2012 will turn out to be. I’ve heard several different possibilities. As best I can, I’ll summarize the arguments I’ve heard.

It’s 1976!

In 1976 Jimmy Carter got out to a strong lead early in the campaign. Gerald Ford made a comeback at the end, but it was too-little-too-late, and Carter won. 2012 will be just like 1976. Obama got out to a strong lead over the summer, Romney has started to make a comeback, but it will be too-little-too-late and Obama will win even though the result will be closer than it looked like it would be several weeks ago.

It’s 1980!

In 1980, Jimmy Carter was way up on Ronald Reagan in the polls but then after the first debate close to the election, there was a huge shift towards Reagan and he won convincingly. 2012 will be just like 1980. Obama was leading strongly in the polls, but after the first debate voters have started surging towards Romney and he will win convincingly.

It’s 2000!

In 2000, Al Gore won the popular vote while George W. Bush won the electoral college. 2012 could be just like 2000. Romney is competitive in national polling, but Obama is strong in enough swing states to swing the election his way. Romney could end up ahead in the popular vote, but lose the election because Obama will win more swing states.

It’s 2004!

In 2004, George W. Bush, a relatively unpopular incumbent, eked out a victory in a tight election against John Kerry because John Kerry let himself get swift-boated. 2012 will be just like 2004. Obama may be relatively unpopular as a president, but Romney (from Massachusetts like Kerry) allowed Obama to define him negatively for so long in the campaign that enough voters will put Obama over the top on November 6th.

What year will 2012 turn out to be in the end? Time will tell. But I can say one thing with confidence. At some future point, there will be another presidential campaign where people will say the following:

“This year is just like 2012! In 2012, ____________ beat ____________ in a ____________ race because ____________.”

An Unexpected Loss

In 2010, Bea Betzner came home from vacation excited to tell her brother Bobby about all she had seen and experienced on her trip. Instead, she found her brother dead.

If life were scripted, there would always be a long and happy life, time for loved ones to say good-bye, and passing away peacefully during the night. But life is unscripted. Sometimes, as in the case of Bea, the death of a loved one comes as a complete shock.

During her journey of grieving for her brother, Bea decided to assist others who find themselves suddenly bereaved. Combining her decades of experience as a clinical psychologist with her own personal experience with her brother Bobby, Bea began An Unexpected Loss, a resource for those dealing with the sudden loss of a loved one. At her website, people can find guidance on what to do in the immediate aftermath of their loss, can connect with Bea for life coaching and emotional support during the grieving process, and can find several resources that assist those dealing with the loss of a loved one.

I’ve known Bea for many years. Her warmth, her caring, and having walked in the shoes of anyone who has experienced an unexpected loss, make her the perfect person for what she does. Time and again, the world teaches us that out of great tragedy can come great good. Bea’s devotion to assisting others who have experienced a sudden loss is a great good.

Thank goodness there are people in the world like Bea to assist when life goes off-script. If you can use her assistance, please visit her website.

Apparently, I’m suspicious.

You think you know me. You read my blog. Many of my readers even know me personally. But there is something you don’t know about me. There is a fact about me that is so damaging that makes me, like a man with facial hair driving a windowless van, suspicious.

I lament that I find myself in such a deplorable condition. No one who is suspicious is better because of it. Suspicious people twirl their mustache with a twinkle in their eye. “Oh my gosh! What is that guy up to?” I don’t know, but it can’t be good. Suspicious people live in basements of their parents house–when they are 27. And they keep the lights dimmed and door closed. Whatever it is that is going on there, it can’t be good. Suspicious people wear dark clothing and grow hair that covers their face. They don’t make eye contact and appear uncomfortable in social situations. “Hmmmmm,” we note with partly squinted eyes from across the room, “something doesn’t seem right about that guy, but I can’t put my finger on it.”  

Suspicious people are almost all men. After all, men are the ones who can grow mustaches and have a proclivity to drive cargo vans. A woman has to work real hard to be suspicious, but I suppose it can happen. Maybe the lack of suspicion for women generally is a cause for suspicion of women. Hmmmmm. I’ve got my eye on you ladies out there! You’ve been hiding behind all the suspicious men to cover for your own suspiciousness! You don’t fool me! It takes suspicious to know suspicious and I know suspicious because I am suspicious. Apparently.

You see, I. Am. Not. On. Facebook.

According for this Forbes article, this makes me suspicious. A WordPress blog with my phone number at the top? Who cares? Twitter? Pshaw! I could be anyone since I don’t have Facebook! How do you know the Morris you know is not, you know, Morris? Better keep an eye on me, like this prairie dog is

¿Qué es un loroco?

“Lo siento, mi español es muy mal, pero lo intento.”

That’s about all I can say in Spanish. It means, “I’m sorry, my Spanish is very bad, but I try.” I’ve gotten a little too good at saying that phrase though because when I say that to someone who speaks Spanish they often think I am being shy and continue to talk as if I will understand most of what they are saying. Sadly, most of the time, I don’t.

This happened to me recently at the Grand Central Market in downtown LA. For a long time when I’ve been riding the Metro and it stopped at Pershing Square, I’d hear the announcement “Pershing Square exit. Angel’s Flight. Grand Central Market.” I’d been to Pershing Square and Angel’s Flight, but what was the Grand Central Market? Recently, I decided to find out.

If you haven’t been there let me describe it for you. Picture the Farmer’s Market by The Grove. Move it downtown. Take away some celebrity sightings. Lower the food prices. Add a few more Mexican food offerings. Bam! You now have the Grand Central Market. It’s a wonderful place.

While there, I decided to eat at a Salvadoran place called Sarita’s because phonetically it sounded like the Anglicized pronunciation of Sahuarita, Arizona, the town I grew up in.

I asked the cashier what her favorite pupusa was ans she told me “queso y frijoles.” That much I understood, so I ordered one. I asked what her next favorite pupusa was and she rattled off something in Spanish that I thought ended in “loco.” Confused, this was when I relied on my crutch. “Lo siento, mi español es muy mal, pero lo intento.” She repeated the same thing and again I thought it ended in “loco.” Not sure what a “crazy pupusa” was, but not wanting to hold up the line any longer, I said, “Si, loco. Gracias” and held my breath that it wasn’t going to be too crazy. While waiting for my food, I noticed the menu said that there was a pupusa with “queso y loroco.” Aha! So my pupusa would not be crazy after all. Instead it would be loroco. But what the heck was loroco? Is that better than crazy?

Whatever a loroco was, it tasted very, very good. The pupusas came with spicy, vinegary cabbage on top and I left completely satisfied. Later, I learned that a loroco is a type of Central American vine with edible flowers. I don’t know how to describe the taste even. It wasn’t like a leafy green and didn’t taste like a flower (not that I eat many flowers to compare), but it made for a very satisfying pupusa. I don’t know why it took me so long to discover the Grand Central Market, but I’m glad I finally did.

Adventures in Social Media a.k.a. “Am I spam, or not?”

Social media is it, man. There’s nothing like it. There’s been nothing like it. Through social media, supposedly marketers can get inside people’s brains in a way never before possible. As we put our lives, our interests, our photos, and relationships on social media websites, supposedly marketers can know us as well as our closest family and friends. Perhaps they can know us even better than we know ourselves. And if they know us that well, where do things go from here? In the future will people willingly insert chips into their brain that will allow their very thoughts to be uploaded onto future social media sites in real time? It sounds crazy, but it’s a crazy world sometimes.

However, as wow as social media is, there are definite cracks in the system. Here is a timeline to illustrate my point:

  • 4 days ago I received a request from someone to connect with them on LinkedIn (let’s pretend this person is named “Marty”).
  • Yesterday, I sent out a newsletter to my address book, including Marty, to update my contacts on what I’ve been up to since I started my own law practice.
  • Later yesterday, Marty reported my newsletter as spam. :-(
  • Today, I received an email from LinkedIn telling me “Hey, you haven’t responded to Marty’s request to connect with him on LinkedIn! What’s up with that?”

Uh, what just happened here? Does Marty want to connect with me or am I spam to Marty? Did I offend Marty by not instantly accepting the request to connect on LinkedIn so he reported me as spam? Doubtful. Much more likely is that despite the best efforts of social media to link us together, right now Marty and I are just not that connected. I don’t know what inspired Marty to request that I connect with him on LinkedIn. Perhaps I popped up on his LinkedIn page somehow and he accidentally clicked “Connect with Morris” but doesn’t even know who I am.

And I’m not excused either. I know who Marty is and how I have his contact information, but if he walked by me I wouldn’t recognize him. I think the simplest answer to what happened is this: somehow I have Marty’s contact information and somehow Marty wanted to to connect with me on LinkedIn and all this happened when we don’t really know each other all that well. I’m not offended. It happens. And who knows? Maybe there will be a surprise ending. Fates have turned on chance encounters and perhaps Marty and I will one day be truly linked in a real sense, not just on LinkedIn (I accepted the request to connect today. Tee-hee.)

It’s a little known fact that…

Long ago, when I would watch the sitcom Cheers, one of my favorite recurring lines in the series was whenever Cliff Clavin would dispense a nugget of knowledge with the preface, “It’s a little known fact that…” and then proceed to enlighten the gang with tidbits involving the domestication of cows or the Bronze Age. Had Cliff Clavin not been a Boston mailman but instead a California probate attorney, perhaps he would have spoken thusly:

“It’s a little known fact that when a beneficiary dies after a decedent, notice to the deceased beneficiary can be sent to the deceased beneficiary’s successor, without having to perform a probate of the deceased beneficiary’s estate.”

That mouthful needs an explanation. Let me explain.

Recently, a client of mine had a problem. Her father had passed away. She and her brother were entitled to her father’s estate. Several months after her father passed away, her brother passed away. A few months later, an attorney (not me) began the probate process for her father. Her father’s estate was nearing the end of the probate process when her prior attorney realized, OOPS!, it was never brought to the court’s attention that the brother had passed away. As far as the court knew, the brother was alive. But he wasn’t. This created some problems.

Because the brother survived his father, the brother’s estate was entitled to a portion of his father’s estate. But how would the deceased brother’s estate get to where it was supposed to go (which in this case was his sister, my client)? Furthermore, when the probate for the father was initiated, the brother was sent notice of the proceeding. But by that point, the brother had already passed away. How can you send notice to someone who is deceased? Isn’t this a problem? Yes.

The other attorney’s solution was to start a probate for the deceased brother. What is a bigger headache than one probate? Two. Not wanting to go through a second probate without a second opinion, it was at this point that the client contacted me. She asked if there was a way to avoid starting a probate for her brother.

Fortunately, there was. California Rule of Court 7.51(e)(1) (which the curious can read here) states that in this situation if there is no “personal representative” (which is code for a probate), notice can be sent to the deceased person’s successor. In this case, my client was the successor to her brother and my thought was that notice to her was sufficient as notice to her deceased brother. Because she believed there was a chance she could avoid a probate for her brother, the client hired me. I pointed out the rule to the court, explained my reasoning, the court agreed, the probate for her father was completed, and the client was spared a needless, lengthly, and costly probate for her brother.

Phew! That sounds complicated looking back on it. The short version perhaps would have sufficed. If only Cliff Clavin were here to help me. But if he were here, perhaps we would say, “It’s a little known fact that Morris sometimes writes dense blog posts.” Touché, Cliff.

Don’t type this at home.

I considered titling this post “Don’t try this at home” but the truth is, you can try it. Just don’t type it!

I recently got a call from a gentleman who was in a quandary over a situation involving his grandfather’s will. His very elderly grandfather, I believe he was in his 90’s, had recently passed away. Several years prior he had executed a will giving his property equally to his 4 children.

However, the gentleman said that there was also a letter that his grandfather had written a few years after the will was executed. The letter was from his grandfather to one of his children. In this letter, his grandfather expressed her desire that, despite what the will said, he wanted this child to have one particular piece of his property and that the rest of his property should be divided equally among all 4 children.

The particular piece of property was quite valuable and would have drastically changed the amount each child received from their father’s estate. The question was, “Is the letter a valid will?”

California Probate Code section 6111(a) states that a will is valid, even if it is not witnessed, “if the signature and material provisions are in the handwriting of the testator.”

I asked the gentleman: Did your grandfather sign this letter? Yes. Did he write the letter in his own handwriting? No, he typed it up and signed it. Was any part of the letter handwritten other than the signature? No.

I told the gentleman that the will was invalid because the material provision (i.e. “I want you to have this particular piece of property.”) was not in his grandfather’s handwriting.

The law allows for handwritten wills. In legalese, a handwritten will is known as a holographic will. The law trusts that if a person, in their own handwriting, writes out what they want to happen to their property, and signs the piece of paper, then it must be what the person wants to happen. However, to help remove the temptation that someone may have to take advantage of an elderly person (“Here papa, I need you to sign this. It’s going to [insert lie here].”), the law requires that the will actually be in the person’s own handwriting.

With the gentleman I spoke with, who knows what the truth of the situation was. It may be his grandfather typed out the letter and signed it, thinking he was doing it right, but made a mistake. Or it may be that someone was trying to take advantage of him in his old age.

In any event, if you were the judge, and someone brought you a typed letter that was signed by someone when they were very old, and there were no witnesses, and the person died not long thereafter, and the letter made drastic changes to what had been expressed by the person in an earlier valid will, would you say the letter was valid? Neither will the law.


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