“MY TOUGHEST CASE”
Clients Waiting Too Late in the Game
Booth & Booth, APLC is a small, civil practice firm, yet its attorneys, Jane Ettinger Booth and her husband, Vincent Booth, handle various and often complex cases for a diverse clientele. No matter what the legal issue is, Booth says, “the moral of the story is call your lawyer earlier rather than later.”
In her practice, Booth often encounters disputes that could have been mitigated or even avoided with better planning. For example, the division of marital property following a divorce can be legally complex, especially when it involves a lot of assets. “Community property law presumes you marry without many assets and accumulate them throughout the marriage, but this isn’t necessarily what couples want,” she says.
Prenuptial agreements offer a method for a soon-to-be-wed couple to decide what they want as far as the cumulation of property during the marriage. Unfortunately, many engaged couples contact Booth only a few weeks before the wedding. “The first thing I ask people that call is ‘When is your wedding date?’” she says. Seeking counsel for a prenuptial agreement only a few weeks or months before the wedding isn’t only uncomfortable but also inadvisable, as claiming duress could be used as an argument if ever there is a dispute. She encourages couples to seek counsel early and tells clients, “We are trying to make your marriage better – not worse.”
Another one of Booth’s practice areas is estate litigation, which isn’t only complex but also emotional. It is not simply a matter of distributing assets. As she says, “People’s emotional issues with the deceased arise as they consider ‘What do I get from the person who’s died?’ It’s not really about money, but it’s about emotions and how you feel about the other person that’s supposed to get the money.” Those interested in drafting a will should hire counsel and be very thoughtful when writing it. “Part of helping the person do estate planning is to ensure that they have some compassion and consideration of what happens after they die,” she says. “Of course I want to make sure the will is lawful, but I spend a lot of time with the person whose will it is to understand what their feelings are about the person or family member.”
Booth also performs zoning work and is involved with civil planning. “People are very passionate about the homes, businesses and real estate they own,” she says, but sometimes their plans for the property don’t align with what’s allowed in their neighborhood. Despite talk of revising the city’s zoning ordinance, current property development requires a lot of navigation. Again, her advice is to tackle problems early and head on. “Go to the neighborhood association and get them on board before you begin the process. If your neighbors are against you, it doesn’t matter whether you are trying to open a business or renovate your house; you’re going to have problems.” Booth advises people to get an attorney involved in the beginning – not after they receive a negative zoning result, when the remaining option is a court challenge.
Whether someone needs advice on estate planning, prenuptial agreements or zoning laws, Booth’s message is the same: “It is always a good idea to at least have representation early on in a matter you know is going to have some legal hurdles, whatever it is. Call your lawyer earlier rather than later, and make sure you have a good lawyer.”
25 Years in Practice
J.D. Tulane University Law School – 1987
Native of New Orleans