Predicting the outcome of a Trust or Will contest lawsuit is a bit like forecasting the weather. You may have some idea of what is to come, but clear skies can turn into a thunderstorm with very little warning. And when lawyers predict the wrong result for their clients, most clients get angry—even though the prediction was never guaranteed. Angry clients lead many attorneys to be severely risk adverse, never wanting to take any risks whatsoever. So when a client asks “can I legally take this action” it is safest from the lawyer’s perspective to say “NO”! Only bad things can come from saying yes and then being wrong about it later.
The problem is that saying no may be safe for the lawyer, but it does the client no good. If all a client wants is to be told “don’t do that” they don’t need to pay a lawyer for that advice. They can just sit on their hands and do nothing. What clients want, or should want, is practical advice. Something that explains the risks and the benefits, leaving the client in the best position possible to make a sold, informed decision on how to proceed.
How is that accomplished? First, you need a lawyer who knows about the area of law on which you are seeking advice. Having someone with experience, who has walked through the fire (so to speak) makes a big difference. It allows the lawyer to separate facts from fiction.
Second, you need someone who knows what is worth worrying about and, more importantly, what is NOT worth worrying about. Rather than focusing on all possible arguments and problems that may come your way, lets focus on all probable arguments and problems. “As our collegeue Stacy Kemp with Kemp & Ruge Law Group puts it, ‘it is not enough to have an educated attorney, you need an efficient one, as well.” Also, as a Judge once told me during a Trust contest trial “It may be possible that a monkey can play the piano, but it’s so highly improbable that we don’t need to talk about it.” That’s great advice. After that, I stopped telling clients about every conceivable problem, and instead focused on the probable problems that were material to the case. This allows clients to be fully informed and make good decisions about their case, without being bothered with unlikely results that they need not worry about.
Third, sometimes you just have to stick your neck out to help clients resolve their problems. The resolution you get when you do nothing is nothing. You must do something if you hope to resolve your California Trust or Will matter. Of course, there are no guarantees in life or in the law. You can lose a great case and you can win a bad one. But you develop a good strategy, inform the client of the risks, and then proceed to put full effort into the case. More times than not, good things will happen with that strategy.
In the end, practical advice is far better than technical advice, but neither is perfect. You take your best shot and live with the result. Now that’s as practical as it gets.