We Need to Become Legally Literate

We live in a legal world. Every day we hear fancy legal words and fancy Latin expressions. Most of us let these pass right past us with only the vaguest understanding of what those terms mean. We make assumptions about what the terms mean because we don’t want to show the truth: we’re legally illiterate. We don’t know the law, even if the law governs our lives.

In day-to-day life, this is usually fine. We don’t need to know what habeas corpus means if all we do is get up, go to work, come home and watch TV, and go to bed.

But what if we ever needed those fancy words? Hopefully, you’ll never need to know what habeas corpus means (it’s the right not be detained indefinitely without being allowed to have your case heard), but other terms are almost certainly going to be important at some point.

For instance, take the word probate. What is that anyway? You may have heard it a number of times in your life. Perhaps your parents talked about it when one of your grandparents died. Or perhaps it was mentioned in one of those legal shows you love where they throw words around to sound smart (which you don’t understand, but you appreciate that the TV lawyers do). Perhaps they were investigating a potential murder and there were questions about the will. Then probate came up, and you just assumed it was a magic word to get the story to move along.

Well, probate actually has a specific meaning.

According to the Arenson Law Group, PC, probate is the “process of legally legitimizing your will and ensuring its enforcement.” Apparently, every will, no matter it’s a massive, drawn out and detailed account of all your possessions or a scribble on a piece of old paper has to go through probate.

It’s during this process that an “executor” (another term you might have heard before) is selected who has the legal power to distribute assets according to the wishes in the will.

When people “contest” a will, it is also during the probate stage. So, it’s a relatively important part of the will. In fact, some wills are deemed invalid during probate.

This example proves just how little people actually know about the law, even if it is sure to affect you at some point. All of us have loved ones who will someday pass away, as we will ourselves. Probate will come up at some point in your life, and yet, even if you knew what it meant, the majority of people reading this article did not.

We need a massive legal literacy campaign in this country. Really, such terms should be taught in high schools to make sure everyone is aware of what they mean, not just when they’re thrown around on TV, but when they come up in our real lives, as they almost certainly will.