by Kathy Waller
My mother used to tell me I should become a lawyer. “You’re analytical,” she said.
I think she meant I was argumentative, but that’s a different story.
I would like to be analytical in the way lawyers are, but I’m not. And I don’t think on my feet. If I were practicing criminal defense, my clients would be halfway to prison before I realized I should have said, “Objection!”
Nonetheless, though not a lawyer type, I decided back in Aught Three that I might make a fair-to-middlin’ paralegal after I retired from library work. So I registered for an eleven-month course in paralegal studies. And found myself back in the world of Saturday classes and papers and exams and quizzes and perpetual studying.
And perpetual remembering. Cases, statutes, ordinances. Codes, Codes, Codes. I’d been out of school for twelve years. I wasn’t accustomed to stuffing my head with–stuff–and spilling it back onto exams.
I’ve read that if you know 80% of the course material, you’ll be able to pass the tests. That may work for other students.
But I believe–I’m sure–that if I know 80% of the material, the exams will cover the other 20%. Consequently, the only thing to do is learn 100%.
And it’s such dry material. Drier than the Dewey Decimal System. No surprise, of course, but I longed for literature, novels just crying out to be torn apart, rummaged through, distilled to their very essence . . .
My memory needed story.
So, preparing for the probate exam, I wrote one–in the form of a mnemonic. It explained intestate succession–who gets what when a Texan dies without leaving a valid will–as laid out by the Texas Probate Code in force as of November 2003. One of our instructors had warned the class that students usually considered probate the most difficult section of the course.
Composing the memory aid took the better part of an afternoon. It required that I not only observe restrictions imposed by rime and meter, but that I strictly adhere to the provisions of the Code. There was no wiggle room. It had to be correct.
At the end of the day, I was pleased. Aside from a couple of rhythmic aberrations, all the lines scanned, the rime scheme was satisfactory, and the targeted provisions of the Code were covered.
It was a pretty good song.
As a mnemonic, however, it lacked a lot. It was long and complicated. I could have completed an entire exam in the time it took me to sing (silently) down to the second chorus.
It was easier to just learn the Code.
Still, I was proud of my effort, so I posted the little flash of creativity on the class’s online bulletin board. My old biology classmates would have read it and applauded. My paralegal classmates looked at me funny.
Well, an instructor had also told us that paralegals aren’t supposed to display a sense of humor.
But funny looks don’t bother me. I spent years in education. I’m used to them.
At the risk of getting several more, I present a bit of law in verse.
The content of the following composition was accurate as of November 1, 2003. The song does not reflect changes in the law since that date. Neither does it represent a legal opinion, nor is it intended to offer counsel or advice. Its appearance on this blog does not constitute practicing law without a license.
*The substance of the Texas Probate Code was codified in the Estates Code by the 81st and 82nd Legislatures, and for that reason, the Texas Legislative Council is not publishing it. If you would like more information, please contact the Texas Legislative Council.
In other words, the Texas Probate Code was swallowed up by the Estates Code, and “John Brown’s Intestacy” is no longer accurate. The author doesn’t intend to make it accurate. And she is still not attempting to practice law without a license.
JOHN BROWN’S INTESTACY
By Kathy Waller
(To be sung to the tune of John Brown’s Body,
aka The Battle Hymn of the Republic).
John Brown died and went to heaven but forgot to make a will.
His intestate succession now the Probate Code will tell.
Was he married, was he single, do his kids sit ‘round the ingle?
Had he common prop. or sep.?
Glory, glory, Texas Probate!
Separate property Section 38!
Common property Section 45!
Make a will while you’re alive!
If John’s married and he leaves a wife, no kids, or kids they share,
Then 45(a)1 leaves wife all common prop. that’s there.
But if he has an extra kid, wife ends up with just half
And the kids share all the rest.
Glory, glory 45(b)!
Don’t omit Section 43!
By the cap or by the stirpes,
Wife shares it with the kids!
For separate prop., if he’s no wife, it goes to kids or grands.
If none of those, John’s parents halve the personal and lands.
If only mom or pop lives, the surviving one takes half.
John’s siblings share the rest.
Glory! Both John’s folks are deceased–
All his sibs will share the increase,
And if no siblings, 38(a)4 means
They’ll need a family tree.
If John has separate prop. and leaves a wife and kids or grands,
38(b)1 gives wife one-third of personal prop. at hand,
And a one-third interest just for life in houses and in lands.
Descendants take the rest.
Glory, glory 38(b)1!
It’s one-third/two-thirds division!
But if John leaves a wife but no kids,
Section 38(b)2 applies!
V. – VII.
John’s wife gets all his personal prop. and half the real estate.
The other half of real estate goes back to 38—
38(a), to be exact, and up the family tree,
Unless his gene pool’s defunct.
For if John Brown was an only child with parents absentee,
No brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, or cousins on the tree,
No grandparents or great-grandparents to grab a moiety,
His wife will get it all.
BUT if John Brown leaves this life with naught a soul to say, “Amen,”
The Probate Code’s escheat will neatly tie up all the ends:
The Lone Star State will step right up to be John’s kith and kin,
And Texas takes it all!
Glory, glory Texas Probate!
Slicing up poor John Brown’s estate!
Avoid the Legislature’s dictate:
Make a will while you’re alive!
Kathy Waller blogs at Telling the Truth, Mainly. Her short stories appear in several anthologies and online. She lives in Austin with one cream tabby and one husband. She’s still working on that mystery novel.
She did work as a paralegal for 2.5 years. She found the work interesting and loved the job (mostly). When she resigned, her attorney said, “I think you’re quitting because you need to do something more creative. So much of the law is just drudgery.” She agreed with him.