Lesson 15: Remember that Laws Vary with Locality

From The Sue the Bastards section of How You Can Avoid Legal Land Mines by Joseph S. Lyles (2003)

Jeff, a man living in my home state of South Carolina, was licensed to practice law in New York. That was impressive because the New York bar exam has the reputation of being the most difficult in the country. Jeff, however, was not licensed to practice in South Carolina, which meant he might not have been aware of many South Carolina laws.

Jeff worked for a textile company and did not practice law, but he prepared his own Last Will and Testament. I’m sure he did an excellent job under the law of New York, but unfortunately, the law of South Carolina applied and was unique in that it required that a Will be witnessed by three witnesses, not two as is required in most states, including New York. (This unusual requirement has since been abolished, and South Carolina has joined the rest of the nation in only requiring two witnesses.)

The outcome was that Jeff’s widow found his Will was worthless in the South Carolina Probate Court. Jeff’s failure to look into the laws of the state in which he was living cost his wife a lot of money and led to the estate property passing to beneficiaries named in the intestacy statute, instead of those he named in his Will.

The Lesson: Be keenly aware that the law varies from state to state in many aspects. Be sure you are following the proper state’s law when you are writing or interpreting any important legal document or making a contract.