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Death Comes Hypothetically

by on September 12, 2012

So, I realized recently that I haven’t written much about law school lately.  (In fact, the last post I appear to have written on the subject appears to be in February. The antic, frantic, unromantic month of February, to quote one of my favorite poems). I haven’t gotten kicked out or anything; rather, I have simply been busy as a busy thing that’s busy. There’s classes to study for, assignments to do, extracurriculars to get involved in, planners to lose and find and lose again and find again….it’s fair dizzying. Fortunately, amidst the whirl, one can always find bits of fun.

For example, one of my classes this term is Decedents’ Estates, which is basically a class where you work out what happens to someone’s stuff when they die. As in any law school class, there’s a good many rules and a good many more variations on the rules (which means more work for lawyers, yay!), and of course there’s lots of hypothetical problems to work through. As you might expect from the nature of the class, all our hypothetical problems involve a person who has, in the immortal words of the Dead Parrot Sketch, kicked the bucket, shuffled off ‘is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible.  What I find most interesting about these problems is two things: 1) they all involve people who have the misfortune of having single letters of the alphabet as their names, and 2) the problems never say just how the late lamented became the late lamented.  So a typical problem will say something like, “A is married to B, and had three children C, D, and E. C had one child, F, D had no children, and E had three children, G, H, and I. I had one child, J.  A has died without a will; who inherits?”

They never say how A died. Killed by River Tam’s brain? Messily devoured by ferrets? Blown up by Vogon death rays? Struck by an unexpected flour barrel from the sky? No clue. It never says. This gets really interesting when you get into the “laughing heir” problems. A laughing heir (seriously, actual phrase used in the text) is someone who’s so far removed from the deceased that they feel no grief whatsoever over the death, but only joy that they inherit all his money. Your long-lost rich uncle, and so on. So we had one problem where L was the decedent (a fancy law school word for dead person) and L’s entire family had died clear back to the grandparents on both sides, and the only survivor was X, who was a second cousin twice removed or some such. The book never explains how this tragedy occured. I am left to conclude that it must have been a meteor. Or, to quote Mal Reynolds, space monkeys. Some horrifying space monkeys got loose maybe.

At any rate, lest you think that law school is all morbid and creepifying (another Firefly reference! yay!), here’s a quote from an employment law case I read earlier this month.

His [the plaintiff’s] lawyer has drawn our attention to an apt quote from Lewis Carroll, whose depictions of the reverse-logic of childhood fantasy worlds all too often resemble adult reality. Describing a confrontation between Alice and Humpty Dumpty as to the extent of language’s elasticity, Carroll wrote:

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’ ” Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t-till I tell you…. When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean-neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass, in the Complete Works Of Lewis Carroll 154, 196 (1994).

Like Alice, we are of the opinion that language is not infinitely elastic.

Actual case. They actually cited to Lewis Carroll. I love law school.

  1. That’s funny how you got hung up on how A died. You should write a story about that and put your mind at ease 🙂

  2. Awesome title! I appreciate those bloggers who have mastered the art of the title…

  3. Niiice. I would say more judges should do that, but I am not sure I want to live in a country ruled by Lewis Carroll’s writings!

    • Have you, perchance, read Frank Beddor’s Looking Glass Wars series? It’s based on Alice in Wonderland, but much more serious. The premise is that Alyss Heart, the heroine, came to Earth and told Carroll her story, but he made a joke of it. The real Wonderland is a bit…darker. Rather like what a country ruled by Carroll’s writings would be.

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Fr. Matthew P. Schneider, LC

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