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Wilson v. Jones

During high school, Wally Jones started working at Wilson’s dairy farm, part time as part of a program to help troubled youth. As soon as he graduated, Mr. Wilson hired him on for good. His compensation included his room and board.  He got up at 4:30 every morning and fed and milked the cows. The Wilson’s had a good sized herd of 250 cows, plus assorted calves and a couple of bulls – all registered Holsteins. Wally didn’t milk the cows by himself: Mr. Wilson had three sons and another hand. It took the six of them about four hours every morning and four every evening to get the milking done. In between, Wally had the unenviable job of keeping the dairy spotless. Understand that dairy inspectors expect that everything will be virtually clean enough to eat off. This meant that between about 10:00 am and 2:00 pm every day, Wally spent all but his half an hour lunch time up to his rubber boots in cow dung, except on Sundays, when Mr. Wilson insisted that Wally attend church.

Over the years, Fred Wilson’s three boys, Fred, Jr., Earl, and Martin all went on to college and moved into other careers: Fred, Jr. became a stockbroker, Earl became a bank president and Martin became a real estate broker and developer. Each of them have done very well financially. Their father paid for all their schooling and was liberal in his gifts over the years. Fred’s wife, Missy (yes, her real name – she is a Southern belle, afer all), never worked outside the home and the farm. 

Over time Wally Jones became like a son to Fred and Missy. As many years went by, Wally learned the dairy business from top to bottom, learning all the latest techniques for feeding, breeding, and milking the cows. He also learned which equipment was the most cost effective and most efficient. As Fred got older, he turned much of the day to day operations over to Wally. Wally took the farm from a little bigger than average to enormous. Under his care, the farm had grown to 1,000 cows with virtually around the clock milking. Fred had paid Wally handsomely and had always let him live on the farm. Wally had never married and he rarely spent any of his money because he made the farm his life. 

At the very respectable age of 89, Fred Jones died. The family gathered to read the will, which had been prepared one year before Fred’s death. While the Wilson sons understood the farm had grown in value, they had no clear understanding of how much. The land alone was now worth about $10,000,000. The equipment and cows were worth another $5,000,000. When the lawyer announced that Wally was cut in for a one third share (Missy got one third and the boys each got one ninth), the sons told the lawyer in no uncertain terms that they weren’t standing by and letting Wally Jones cut into their action. Missy, couldn’t have cared less. She loved Wally as if he were a son. What made things worse is that Missy told the lawyer she wanted to give her share to Wally, if they could make some arrangement for her to continue living on the farm until she died and to provide a reasonable income to her until her death. Missy was 87 at the time, but was still in reasonably good health.

Wally told the sons he had saved virtually every dime he had ever made, had some very good investments work out for him and suggested that he would buy out their one-third share. It would completely wipe him out, but having the farm would set him up for the rest of his life. He didn’t really want to do anything else, anyway.

The sons are claiming undue influence on their father and lack of testamentary capacity and are considering a will contest. The sons have produced a prior will, written about twenty years before Fred’s death, giving half the estate to Missy and one-sixth each to the sons. It contained no bequest at all to Wally. The sons and Wally are having their lawyers meet to discuss a possible resolution of the matter. Missy and Wally have already made their arrangements with the understanding it will be contingent upon the sons and Wally coming to a resolution. The sons have agreed to waive any conflicts of interest that might exist as between them and have the same law firm representing all of them.

  

Wally Jones Confidential Facts

1. Things you may voluntarily disclose, but are not required to disclose unless asked a direct question.

a. Wally will say that it had been several years since Fred had done any work in the day to day operation of the dairy farm. Mostly, he will say that Fred worked in his garden and would come to the barn and talk with Wally and the other hands.

b. Fred owned the farm outright. He was the sole owner and had never put Missy on the title to anything for some reason that has never become clear.

c. Missy will testify if necessary that Wally has taken care of her and Fred and had been very attentive to their needs ever since he had started at the farm as a teenager. 

d. Missy will also testify that Wally took care of her and Fred’s finances, paid the bills and had monthy meetings with Fred to keep him updated about what was going on.

e. Further, Missy will say that Fred always had his accountant review the books and so far as she knows the books were always completely accurate.

2. Things you must disclose if asked a direct question but may not voluntarily disclose.

a.  Wally agrees that he and Fred had numerous conversations about how Fred intended to distribute his wealth. Wally will admit that toward the end he strongly suggested Fred give him a share in light of his loyalty, commitment and hard work.

b. Missy is in relative good health, but was always a little ditzy and has now become a little senile. She does have a little trouble remembering things.

3. Things you cannot disclose, even if asked a direct question.

a. Wally admits to you that right near the end, when Fred wrote his last Will, that he probably wasn’t completely mentally sound, although he had good and bad moments. Wally will say that Fred was slipping mentally the last five to six years of his life.

b. Since Fred never asked and didn’t seem to care, Wally paid himself $300,000 per year over the past ten years.

4. YOUR AUTHORITY: Wally has $5,000,000 available to buy out the sons. He can liquidate all his holdings within a week and get each of them checks within two weeks. He is willing to pay the whole $5,000,000. 

Wally is open to any other solution that may present itself that will, at minimum, keep his 1/3 interest in the farm, keep his current job, and permit him to continue to run the farm as he sees fit. However, these conditions are utterly non-negotiable. He will never agree to any settlement that contains anything less than these minimum requirements.

1. Do you know the facts? This doesn’t mean you’ve memorized them, but it does mean you have a good handle on the circumstances surrounding the negotiation without necessarily having to constantly review notes. (This is more for the video negotiation than the “email” negotiation, since I don’t watch the email negotiation).

2. Are you clear on the problem that needs solving? I don’t expect you’ll necessarily know all the legal intricacies, but I do expect you’ll have a basic understanding of them.

3. Do you have a plan for negotiating a resolution? In other words, does it appear from the back and forth you actually had considered your client’s objective, thought about what the other side might do, and that you understood both your goal and bottom line?

4. Are you working toward a resolution? I get that sometimes you might have a strategy of being ultra-competitive but at some point you have to keep in mind there is no need to negotiate if you don’t believe a resolution can be achieved.

5. Can I see that you’ve at least attempted to find ways to incorporate some of the things you’ve learned in the course into how you are handling the negotiation?

This is not a rubric for handling the negotiation, just things to keep in mind as you plan. There are no point values assigned to any one of these factors. These are things I am considering as you write to each other and talk to each other.

Last thing: clear effort is rewarded over outcome. You may or may not get a resolution. Of course, we’d all prefer to do so. But I’d rather see well done negotiating that doesn’t resolve the matter than a resolved negotiation not done as well. This doesn’t mean sometimes things can’t wrap up quickly, but it does mean I should be seeing you employ as much of your negotiating arsenal as possible.

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