The well-known idiom, “comparing apples to oranges,” is an extremely accurate characterization when applying the law. I focus my legal practice on three areas of law – estate planning and probate; divorce and family law; and business. One may think that after some time, the cases would run together or become redundant. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Take for example, a basic estate plan. A husband and wife are expecting their first child and want to create a Last Will and Testament to ensure that if something happens to them, their child has a guardian in place. As I ask this couple questions and provide some scenarios, we decide their desires will best be met if we include a provision whereby the guardian may live in their residence free-of-charge, so as to keep things as consistent as possible for the otherwise orphaned child. The next married couple expecting a child may not need or want this provision, but instead, want to include an educational incentive for their children so that they receive their inheritance earlier if they graduate from college. The third couple wants to disinherit a child and put in place provisions that reduce the likelihood of a Will challenge or family dispute. The fourth client is a widowed farmer with two children, one of whom has special needs and the other who has a significant amount of debt. The farmer wants to treat his children equally, but needs special planning to ensure the inheritance he leaves does not disqualify his special needs child for government benefits, while at the same time assuring his financially unfortunate child does not lose the farm to creditors. The fifth client has rental properties and real estate in Iowa and Arizona. The client needs a living trust to avoid a probate in both Iowa and Arizona, and also needs a limited liability company to protect her personal assets from litigious tenants.
The fact patterns go on and on. And next to the meaningful relationships I form with clients, this is why I love what I do for a living. No two cases, nor two days, are the same.
Even cases that start out somewhat routine can turn into any attorney’s “first.” Consider a custody case where, after having raised their six-year-old together, the parents split and want a Court Order to direct the parenting schedule and child support in case the parents can’t otherwise agree. One parent files the standard petition, but the other parent throws a wrench in the case by filing a counterclaim, alleging that property and debt division is also an issue because the parents are married by common law. The next family law matter involves a relatively cordial divorce among husband and wife, but just prior to submitting the parties’ agreement to the Court, the wife becomes pregnant with another man’s child. The case just took an unexpected turn, as the child is presumed the husband’s until proven otherwise, which can’t happen until the child is born and a paternity test is taken and approved.
It’s always tempting to compare legal work with family, friends, and Facebook acquaintances. However, keep in mind that while situations may be similar, no two cases are exactly the same. Just as every person and life is unique, applying the law to those personal facts is distinct. You can’t compare an apple to an orange, just as you can’t compare your case to your neighbor’s.
The information contained herein is for informational purposes only, and is not legal advice or a substitute for legal counsel. You should not act or rely on any information herein.