We all have "Aha!" moments in life where a situation becomes crystal clear. The moment may be as simple as, "I just don't like carrots!" or as sublime as an indescribably profound insight - this one is somewhere in between. Like many in the business of estate planning, I am preparing for 2016. To the extent that "past is prologue," I reviewed the demographics for recent trust and estate litigation clients.
While I knew that we represented people from throughout California as well as a high number of out-of-state clients, I hadn't really thought about the age groups that we represent. Now I have - and now I know what those age demographics mean.
I first had to understand age-group terminology. I was born in 1950 and I've heard it most of my adult life that I am a Baby Boomer. What does that mean? As to time, it means that I was born between 1945 and 1964.
OK - easy enough. I'm a Baby Boomer. But I also represent quite a few clients who are both older and younger than I am. What are they? Social scientists call the group born from 1927 to 1944 "Mature/Silents." I would grant that people and clients that I represent in that age group are mature - I don't know about silent., although the ravages of age do seem to quiet us down a bit.
How about those that were born after us Baby Boomers? Social scientists call them Generation X - people born between 1965 and 1980. Now we know what they are.
Now to the "Aha!" Sixty percent (60%) of the people that we represent in probate litigation are Baby Boomers. Baby Boomers are no more litigious that any other group; it is just that by some estimates, Boomers are in the process of receiving around $12 trillion in inheritance from their parents - the Tom Brokaw-dubbed "Greatest Generation."
A Baby Boomer doesn't engage a trust litigation lawyer to protect their inheritance and beneficiary rights unless there is a pretty serious reason to do so. In the same way, we don't visit an emergency room to deal with a hangnail.
We serve as probate and estate litigation attorneys either when something is going wrong, or when there's a risk of something going seriously wrong. The ultimate goal of estate litigation is to protect our client's inheritance and to secure their rights. Often this is just a question of petitioning for a court-enforced accountability against an intransigent or lazy trustee. In other cases there can be more sinister issues - misappropriation, deceptions, obfuscations and intentionally wrong conduct.
The simple truth is whether an inheritance or beneficiary right is imperiled by negligence, lack of oversight or intentional conduct, many of the processes required for accountability from trustees, executors and administrators will apply. Delay may make remedies more difficult. Protection is best done in real time - not in the long-distant future when records are gone and estate matters irredeemably tangled.