Vol. 84, No. 7, July 2011
The ABA Checklist for Family Heirs
By Sally Balch Hurme (Chicago, IL: ABA Senior Lawyers Division, 2011). 258 pgs. $119.95. Order, www.ababooks.org.
Reviewed by Scott B. Franklin
“What do you own?” “Who are your relatives?” If not the very first questions, these are probably some of the many initial questions an attorney will ask his or her client before undertaking an estate, tax planning, or elder care/Title XIX planning engagement. Or, when attempting to inventory a decedent’s assets, a personal representative might find records to be lacking and incomplete.
The ABA Checklist for Family Heirs, published by the ABA’s Senior Lawyers Division, is intended as a guide to help assemble the various types of financial and other personal information everyone should have readily available and organized. This 241-page book is not cover-to-cover text but rather follows a pattern of a brief discussion of 10 topics (for example, personal or family history, survivors’ benefits, financial accounts, estate planning documents), followed by several pages of blank forms for each topic designed to help the reader put together a personal database of this information. The goal is to have this book ready to assist with predeath planning or postdeath administration without the stress of gathering records at a less opportune time; the book even has spaces for information sufficient to prepare an obituary, family tree, or biography of the subject individual.
The author recommends using a pencil to complete the various questionnaires, which collect vital data such as names, addresses, dates of birth, family members, dates of marriages or divorces, and educational, work, and military histories. The book also provides forms to list real estate holdings, the locations of miscellaneous assets, and the details of gifts (already) made to heirs or others. It also includes pages on which burial instructions and cemetery plot locations could be detailed, again with the intent of making this information easily accessible at a time when survivors might be distracted by grief.
Other pages are designed to itemize financial holdings. Depending on the particular client, these forms may or may not contain enough room to list all bank accounts, stock or mutual fund holdings, retirement plan accounts, and so on. Space is also included to list information concerning credit cards and liabilities owed to others as well as life, medical, and disability insurance policies.
The book also comes with a CD-ROM containing the questionnaires in both PDF and MS Word formats so that one can use the computer version to update the information as needed. These e-forms do not seem very user-friendly, however.
This book could be useful to attorneys who provide planning services and might supplement other questionnaires they use with their clients. Family members will also find the information handy when they need to assume control for an ill or incapacitated parent. However, with a cover price of $96-$120 (depending on ABA membership status), this book might be too expensive a solution for some situations.
Lawyer Lincoln in Transit to Freedom: An historical nonfiction novel
By Alicia Connolly-Lohr (Madison, WI: self-published, 2010). 382 pgs. $13.99. Order, www.amazon.com.
Reviewed by Kari Niesen-LaScala
This book, written by a Madison-area author, chronicles some of Abraham Lincoln’s days as an attorney, and it grabs you from the first page, which describes the day when an extremely disheveled man (accused of murdering Elijah Lovejoy, an abolitionist journalist) barged into Lincoln’s law office, seeking representation. Lincoln ultimately did not represent him but so begins a central theme in the book: Lincoln’s struggle with how to combat slavery while keeping his legal and political careers intact, especially early on.
The first part of the book describes Lincoln’s travels as a circuit lawyer (almost 500 miles by horseback) to represent local townspeople in the Eighth Judicial Circuit. It was interesting to read about the camaraderie Lincoln enjoyed with other lawyers and judges. The book also touches on Lincoln’s affliction with the “old melancholy” that plagued him when he traveled alone.
Two slavery cases are the focus in this book, and the author’s accounts of them read like legal thrillers, full of suspense and drama. The reader becomes fully acquainted with the different characters, and it is disturbing to read the slaves’ stories and learn about the way in which they were callously and casually referred to as “chattel.”
The first case discussed involved the sale of “Nancee” from a slave owner in Missouri to Lincoln’s client in Illinois. Even though Lincoln worried about sounding like an abolitionist, he used an antislavery argument (there is no contract because the agreement was for the sale of a person, which was illegal in Illinois) in addition to just simply arguing the terms of the contract. It was interesting to read some of his internal thoughts during the cases, which were sometimes very humorous.
The second case discussed is the Matson slave trial, involving a Kentucky slave owner, Matson, who also owned a farm in Illinois and transported slaves back and forth. With the help of some abolitionists, some slaves escaped while in Illinois, a free state.
Again, the author notes the struggle: Lincoln wanted to represent the abolitionists even though Matson had already sought an initial consultation with him. When he concluded that ethics would not allow him to do so, he felt that “melancholy” once again. The book notes Lincoln hoped to get the slavery issue “out in the open” by taking on this case, and he even briefly contemplated conceding the case during trial, but he instead vigorously defended his client.
Lincoln ultimately lost the case when the court held that the slaves had stayed so long in Illinois that they were now considered Illinois residents and were not “merely passing through.” After Lincoln lost the case, he told the judge, “I’m content in the knowledge that the law set five slaves free today.”
The book contains an interesting epilogue, which tells the reader what transpired next for the various characters. Although the book is almost 400 pages long, it is not only a quick read but a very enjoyable one.
Demons of Democracy
By Mark Davis (Abingdon, MD: Healthnets, 2011). 233 pgs. $14.99. Order, www.amazon.com.
Reviewed by Jeffrey M. Salas
When I asked the State Bar if I could review Demons of Democracy – which its author claims “provides a glimpse of the inadequate education lawyers receive, which will shock the reader and shake their faith in a once elite profession” and “displays that all legislation emanating from the halls of power is tainted by a group that was once the sentinels of democracy, but now looks to undermine it” – I thought it might provide a well-reasoned and fair criticism of the current legal profession.
After all, the longer I practice, the more I realize that the legal profession needs to be knocked down a peg or two, and one can always find some practical insight in writing that reiterates the profession’s faults.
Unfortunately, I was wrong. Despite its representation that “[t]hrough egregious examples and detailed research, Demons of Democracy exposes a profession whose primary purpose is to accumulate wealth at the expense of a captive public audience,” the book is nothing more than a vengeful rant against lawyers and judges. Its author clearly has an axe to grind (maybe stemming from a bad experience with the legal system?).
There is no real theme to the book other than the opinion that “lawyers/judges/legislators” are evil. The author claims to know each participant’s secret motivations for bringing rampant injustice to the United States. It is simply a stream-of-consciousness venting of the author’s opinions (although the lawyer jokes at the beginning of each chapter are a nice touch). He repeats himself over and over (the book could probably be half its 200-some pages). And, it seems that each noun has an adjective or two preceding it.
To support his opinion, the author liberally cites the U.S. Constitution (without explaining why or how it applies).
The book is also filled with grammatical and typographical errors that make for a slower read. I fully recognize the author’s right to publish his opinion, but I weep for any trees that have been killed to publish this book.