Happy St. Joseph’s Day!
I have to honor my Italian heritage and wish happy St. Joseph’s Day to everyone. I have always taken great pride in being Italian. I love the food, the country, the attitude of the people, their creativity throughout history, and on and on. But one thing I don’t admire about Italians is there ability to be petty and hold grudges. The word “vendetta” is an Italian word meaning revenge. The fact that this Italian word has now been assimilated into the English language is no coincidence.
Now don’t get me wrong, every nationality has a segment of the population who are conflict-loving, irrational folks. But in my 37 years as an attorney, some of the most hard fought family fights occurred in Italian families. Thirty years ago I witnessed cousins almost come to blows over a used sausage-making machine that each felt had been promised to them by their zia (aunt). I have seen two brothers each spend over $10,000 in legal fees fighting over household furniture and furnishings that could not have been worth more than $5,000 in total.
Petty fights over what is sometimes the most inconsequential personal property are not an infrequent problem faced by probate attorneys. Oftentimes, we are witnessing a psychodrama that began decades ago. Insults long ago forgotten by one of the combatants (or their parents) can trigger a furious, irrational court fight, where only the attorneys come out ahead.
At Reda|Ciprian|Magnone we decided long ago that we would not handle contested probate matters of any kind. There are several reasons for this from my standpoint. First, I would take the fight too personally and make it a crusade (a particularly bad trait in an attorney handling a contested matter for a client). Second, often the client is quite irrational during the battle, willing to go to any lengths and spend any amount of money to win the fight (“It’s the principal. I would rather pay you everything than to let that SOB get away with this.”). But once the fight ends and the client looks back at the amounts they paid, rationality would return and they would end up hating their attorney (I guess it wasn’t about the principal after all). Finally, being used as a tool by people who wish to savage their relatives, and oftentimes fight over relatively nothing, is not why I went to law school.
If you ever find yourself in a conflict situation like this, I would urge you to take a deep breath, sit in a quiet room and take the time to really analyze what is at stake. Is it truly worth the time, mental anguish, emotional toll and money to carry on the fight? Ask yourself if your life would be meaningfully better if you won. Conversely, would your life be meaningfully worse if you lost? Have you spoken to a person not involved in the fight, a close friend or family member, about what is at stake and what their views are concerning carrying the fight on? The opinion from someone not in the fray can often be helpful. Finally, remember what Matthew tells us in Chapter 5 of his Gospel:
You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
Words to live by (but so often really hard to do).