St Louis lawyer Rachel Gold deals with many a family drama, mostly of the dysfunctional variety. Divorce. Paternity. And death. Occasionally, all three combine into a dead hand trifecta, where the deceased seeks to control the living--and especially his descendants--from beyond the grave.
Rachel calls them zombies. The legal term for such inheritance plans is the dead hand, the English translation of the Old French term mortmain. The term refers to the attempt by wealthy individuals to exert perpetual ownership over property (and future generations) through legal documents prepared before they die. But not even the most obsessed tycoon or his skilled attorneys can foresee every future contingency. To quote the old Yiddish maxim, Man plans, and God laughs. And angry descendants sue.
It's so true. Rachel suddenly finds herself representing two women--one a young widow, one an older divorcee--in a pair of nasty zombie cases where the outcome of each hinges upon a clause in a contested estate plan.
Client Cyndi Mulligan is the trophy widow of the late Bert Mulligan, a billionaire entrepreneur whose last will and testament left his estate to Cyndi's unborn daughter. The challenge comes from Bert's angry first wife and her angrier only son. Their claim: Cyndi's daughter--born eleven months after Bert's death--cannot possibly be Bert's child.
In the other case, Rachel represents Marsha Knight, the first wife of the wealthy founder of a women's lingerie manufacturer. Marsha has been sued by his young widow, who seeks to invalidate Marsha's divorce settlement and, in the process, impoverish her through invocation of the ancient and nearly inscrutable Rule Against Perpetuities.
As the trial date approaches in each lawsuit, the threats to Rachel and her two clients begin to escalate. Zombies, as Rachel discovers, are hard to kill. And even worse, they can still kill--and where least expected.
The Dead Hand is written with the verve, humor, and legal smarts that are trademark Michael Kahn.