Held by the Bounds of the Law

By Rachel Csutoros, Elder & Disability Law Clinic Student, Fall 2018

Many people choose the to enter the legal profession to help people and further the public good. However, there are aspects of the profession that quickly destroy this admirable aspiration. I am learning this lesson during my semester in the Elder and Disability Law Clinic. This is my first experience in dealing with clients and their specific legal issues that impact their personal lives. During my first client meeting, I was overcome with the overwhelming urge to ensure my client that my partner and I would be able to help her achieve justice and assist her in all of her legal needs.

This young woman came to us with questions and concerns about the will that her grandmother left behind. Our client felt like her father had placed an undue burden on her grandmother to sign a will that passed everything in her estate over to him. Our client wanted to pursue a wrongful death action and possibly even legal action against her father for various claims of abuse and neglect. As she depicted all of the circumstances surrounding these issues with her father and grandmother, I had an overwhelming desire to reassure her that no matter what, I would pursue justice on her grandmother’s behalf. But in this case, the law was not on our client’s side.

In general, there is a low mental standard required to pass property by will. This enables most people to distribute their property the way they would like. The law is in favor of directing property in this way; it would prefer to not have to pass a will by intestacy (through the laws of the state). However, this presents a problem when contesting a will signed by the testator (the owner of the property). In the case we had before us, the will was drawn up by an attorney, witnessed by various individuals, and signed by the testator (in this case the grandmother). The elements for a proper will had been sufficiently met. Barring some uncontrivable evidence, the will could not be questioned.

My partner and I were stuck with the task of informing our client that there were no causes of action that she could successfully take. The chances were very likely that her father would prevail if she contested her grandmother’s will.

In dealing with this seemingly hopeless situation, I had to face the fact that I cannot help every client that comes into my office. In my legal practice, I will not be able to solve every person’s problems. The law limits the amount of aid I can give each individual. While this is a hard lesson to learn, I am thankful to be learning in a forgiving space where I can discuss the disappointments I find within the practice of law with my fellow classmates and my professors.