The Reading of the Will: Discarding the Myths of Probate. By: M. Geoffrey G. Jones

Our Managing Partner, Geoff Jones, has taken the time to write about our practice and the myths associated with the topic of what happens to families when a loved one dies. We historically hear a universal declaration by our clients they wish to “avoid probate” yet as Geoff explains, this fear is largely a product of fiction. 

In this several part series, he explores the reality of the practice, and lends comfort to the reader we have the family’s interest at heart. 

Part 1 : Introduction, Jarndyce v.Jarndyce.

Charles Dickens 1812- 1870

In his novel, Bleak House, Charles Dickens uses as a central plot device a probate case in the Chancery Court of Victorian England, known as Jarndyce v. Jarndyce. This probate case has been going on for generations and has reached the point of absurdity in its complexity, and the attorney fees of the lawyers involved in the case have essentially devoured the entire estate:

Jarndyce and Jarndyce drones on. This scarecrow of a suit has, over the course of time, become so complicated, that no man alive knows what it means.


An English Law Firm

The parties to it understand it least; but it has been observed that no two Chancery lawyers can talk about it for five minutes, without coming to a total disagreement as to all the premises. Innumerable children have been born into the cause; innumerable young people have married into it; innumerable old people have died out of it. Scores of persons have deliriously found themselves made parties in Jarndyce and Jarndyce, without knowing how or why; whole families have inherited legendary hatreds with the suit.

The little plaintiff or defendant, who was promised a new rocking horse when Jarndyce and Jarndyce should be settled, has grown up, possessed himself of a real horse, and trotted away into the other world. Fair wards of court have faded into mothers and grandmothers; a long procession of Chancellors has come in and gone out; the legion of bills in the suit have been transformed into mere bills of mortality; there are not three Jarndyces left upon the earth perhaps, since old Tom Jarndyce in despair blew his brains out at a coffee house in Chancery Lane; but Jarndyce and Jarndyce still drags its dreary length before the Court, perennially hopeless. 

Tools of Justice

Unfortunately, Jarndyce v. Jarndyce is still representative of many of the myths about the process of the probate of estates that still exist in many lay peoples minds. For most people, the idea of probating an estate is a dark and mysterious process, understood only by lawyers, who drag the process out for years and years while they take excessive fees for representing greedy relatives fighting over the scraps of a deceased person’s property.

Notwithstanding Mr. Dickens’ use of probate as metaphor for the absurdity of the judicial system in Victorian England, for most people today, many of the myths surrounding probate have been created over the years by Hollywood screenwriters, in an attempt to add drama to a process which is typically devoid of any courtroom theatrics.

Its time to remove the veil of mystery and secrecy that surrounds the probate process and discard the 10 most common myths that have developed over the past 200 years in the minds of most Americans about this relatively straightforward (if somewhat prosaic) legal procedure.

The next segment: The Reading of the Will