courts, law, lawyers

A Tax on Broken Souls

is how one judge described the Mandatory Victims Surcharge. This surcharge – an additional fine tacked onto every criminal sentence- $100 for summary offences and $300 for  indictable ones -was made mandatory for all offenders in the 2013 criminal law reforms brought in by the Conservative government. Continue reading “A Tax on Broken Souls”

courts, jury trials, law, lawyers

Cruel and Unusual Punishment

We’re betting that David Berry Jr. will leave prison a reformed man next year. Not only was he slammed with a year-long jail sentence for deer poaching, but the Missouri judge who sentenced him also ordered that he watch the Disney movie Bambi in its entirety at least once a month during his incarceration. Continue reading “Cruel and Unusual Punishment”

Big Law, computers, courts, dispruptive technology, law, Law Society of BC, lawyers

The Legal year that was-2018

Once again this year I succumb to the lazy pundits’ content creation strategy of posting a retrospective on the highlights of the legal year now drawing to a close. And why Not? Not only has it been a busy, busy year, but I have a hunch that a few years down the pike, analysts will be opining that 2018 was a watershed year in the evolution of the profession. Continue reading “The Legal year that was-2018”

courts, law, Law Society of BC, lawyers

Justice Delayed

Since the Attorney General seems determined to create a species of half-trained lawyers and to have them regulated by the Law Society perhaps we ought to examine some of the mechanics of how that might work. Continue reading “Justice Delayed”

courts, divorce, family law, law, lawyers, politics

Herding Cats

There is an old saying that  managing lawyers is just like herding cats: neither likes being managed, herded or told what to do, as the Law Society of BC and the Attorney General discovered last week at the Society’s Annual General meeting, where the lawyers, hissing and scratching all the way, torpedoed the AG’s latest pet project. Continue reading “Herding Cats”

law, lawyers, wills & estates

Know when to hold ’em

An Executor’s job has never been an easy one, stick handling through the paperwork and bureaucracy to wrap up a deceased’s affairs while all the while dealing with the foibles and expectations of impatient beneficiaries.

It seem that every one is a critic when it comes to the disposition of the big-ticket items in the estate, the house, cottage or business, and the sniping doesn’t stop when dealing with the small stuff like the picture over the mantle and the costume jewellery.

The advent of crypto-currencies gives beneficiaries yet another golden opportunity to throw stones at beleaguered executors, who typically are walking blindfolded into a minefield when they enter the Alice-in Wonderland word of Bit-coin and Ethereum

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An executor is charged with liquidating the assets of the estate in a careful, prudent and timely manner. More easily said than done in a world where asset values fluctuate constantly. Executors have long wrestled with decisions such as -” do I list the house for sale now, or wait til the spring, in hopes the market will continue to rise ?”. Lawyers, recognizing the problem of constantly changing asset values , usually include clauses in wills empowering executors to retain assets such as stocks and other securities in the form in which they were found at the  date of death. Still, an executor is playing “hot potato” while holding onto any assets whose value can slide. Beneficiaries don’t want apologies they want cash!

Enter the era of digital currency – would it be an exaggeration to say that never before in the  history of mankind has a more mercurial asset class existed? ( well, maybe tulips, during the infamous ‘Tulip mania’ bubble Tulipomaniain fifteenth century Holland – but that’s another story !) From a 2014  value of around $120 the coin skyrocketed to an $18,000 high last December, before taking coin holders on a breathtaking roller coaster ride during 2018. A month ago a coin was worth  over $6,000 while today, a month later , it trades at half that value.

So what’s an executor to do?  how do you make a prudent business decision when dealing with a completely new class of asset, that you don’t understand, that fluctuates wildly in value? One wrong move and you are dead meat, and liable to be devoured by ravenous beneficiaries.

It’s certainly something to think about, when you get the phone call from that nerdy friend who dabbles in crypto currencies asking if you would mind being his executor. ( and,m if you are that nerdy guy, could you do every one a favour by liquidating your crypto – currency positions  before you shuffle of your mortal coil?)

courts, law, lawyers, negotiation, wills & estates

Fighting for the ashes

There is nothing like a day long seminar on the intricacies of wills and estates to set the mind adrift to wander freely amongst half forgotten stanzas of classical poems. It happens to me every time.

Last week it was a reference to the proper drafting of clauses pertaining to the disposition of a testators ashes (yes, we lawyers actually attend seminars about such things!) that transported me instead to the words of Lord Macaulay’s famous Horatius at the Bridge:

To every man upon this earth

  Death cometh soon or late.
      
And how can man die better

  Than facing fearful odds

For the ashes of his fathers

  And the temples of his gods?”

How indeed! In a modern world characterized by multiple marriages, and blended families, the custody and disposition of a person’s ashes takes on increased importance, if for no other reason than that their existence creates a flash point in disputes between first, second or even third families. Sometimes an Horatius is needed to guard those ancestral ashes.

I recall a  bitter, bitter case I had as a young lawyer that pitted an estranged wife against a new girlfriend (my client) over pension benefits and the like. At one point in the proceedings a demand was made upon my client to surrender the ashes of the deceased  husband/boyfriend. She responding by mixing them up in a bowl of porridge and eating them, then later in court turning to her rival to announce with a Cheshire cat grin exactly what she had done. Where is Horatius when you really need him?

Recently a marathon family mediation session at our office, involving a daughter ( by a first marriage) and a wife (by a second marriage) finally settled, with the tipping point being a concession as to the custody of the ashes of the deceased.That one issue loomed much larger to the parties than the considerable sums of money that were in play in the negotiations.

The law offers one precious little guidance when such disputes erupt  – who has the greater right to say where a person’s ashes should be scattered – the deceased’ children, or their current companion or spouse? Its the sort of issue judges are loathe to tackle- tending to growl at counsel to step out into the corridor and sort it out between themselves. The topic comes up more than you might imagine, we know, from the parade of disgruntled heirs that seek consultations with us.

I probably should have paid more attention in the seminar, and less time mentally  reciting poetry, since the best solution is advance planning and proper will drafting. If your Facebook status reads as “Its complicated”, or even if you are just working on your second marriage, as pretty much everyone is, you probably should give some thought as to whose mantle you want your ashes to live on after you pass. At the end of the day, the decision will rest with your executor, who will be bound by what you have stipulated in your will.

Remember that your cremains may have extraordinary sentimental value to your children, as well as your current companion, so it is a decision that should not be taken lightly, and once taken should be fully recorded in your will, and also discussed with your executors during you lifetime..

But, if you  simply want to piss everyone off, or really can’t decide who should have them, consider blowing your entire estate in order to have  your ashes launched into space in a space burial. There are at least two companies, Celestis and Elysium, that for a very handsome fee will launch tour cremains into outer space ! No ashes, no money left in the estate- no problem! ( Sorry Horatius, modern technology may have made you redundant)