It happens all the time. I’ll give a lecture or mention what I do at a bar association event, and the colleague I just met will express appreciation for what I do, tell me it’s a really neat niche, and then try to convince himself that our practice areas don’t overlap. I’m here to tell you that, yes, they do. The conversation usually goes something like this:
Sorry, Aaron. I’m a probate lawyer, I’ll never need to serve anybody in a foreign country. But thanks for doing that CLE. You’re a funny guy. (Funny how? I’m a clown? I amuse you?) No, I mean I really like how you got that picture of Boromir into your slide deck!
Wait a sec, there, pal. It’s likely that you will have to serve abroad someday. Ever have an intestate decedent? (Yes.) Ever need to serve his heirs? (Yes.) Think he might have a cousin or two in the old country? (Hmmmm.) Bear with me here…
It doesn’t matter what court is handling the probate, and it doesn’t matter if the judge is certifiably nuts and is sick of all your service of process jibber jabber.
Quick war story here: probate lawyer calls me a couple of years ago and says, “I’ve got a guy with a million dollars in land and a collection of antique tractors, but no kids, no wife, no siblings… and no will.”
Wow, I thought. Somebody’s about to get a happy gram about Cousin Stan.
Turns out that Stan was short for Stanislaw. Stan was a Polish immigrant who came to America after the war and made a pretty good go of it. But he never got married, and had precisely zero family in America. The internet is a wonderful thing, however, so the estate’s court-appointed lawyer found out pretty easily that Stan had elderly three sisters in Poland. Not one of them spoke English, so they didn’t respond to the lawyer’s letters.
“How do I serve them?” he asks.
Pretty straightforward, I replied. We send a request to the Justice Ministry in Warsaw (Poland’s Hague Central Authority), and they take it from there. It was all wrapped up in about three months; the judge was happy, the elderly sisters had a nest egg, and Stanislaw was a local hero in his old village.
It bears repeating. The Hague Service Convention controls how all this gets done wherever it applies. It’s a treaty, to which the United States is a party, and which entered into force right about the time my mom graduated from high school. Thanks to the Supremacy Clause, its strictures trump lesser laws. A gentle reminder:
This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding. (Art. VI-2)
In short, if the judge raises a stink that it’s taking too long, tell the judge that James Madison & Alexander Hamilton said he should give you a break.
Unless he’s a lunatic, like this guy —>