The Inheritance

29 Jan

Attorney Jack Morse knew from the start that he had a strange, unprecedented case with his two new legal clients.

A brother and a sister, Gary and Sheila Thomas, made an appointment to see him in his downtown office near the county courthouse.

They did not at all look like siblings. He was thin while she bordered on the fat. He looked light with green eyes, while she had brown eyes in a tan-skinned face. Neither of them appeared to be married to anyone. They acted like a duo or couple.

“Our father, who passed away only weeks ago, did not believe in having a last will and testament,” explained Gary. “He thought that he had years ahead of him for settling up the estate he had built up over his lifetime.”

“But the trouble results from his having had a double of himself constructed, with his name and identical physical appearance. Dad was always interested in scientific advancements and innovative developments. He got it into his head as soon as bio-genetic duplicates went on the market that he had to obtain one of himself. His belief seemed to be that this living model would somehow prolong and preserve his own life. To him, the double was a guarantee of his own longevity.

“It may have been a foolish, wishful idea, but he came to treat the biotic product as if it were his actual twin.”

Sheila continued the narration. “This second John Thomas now thinks of himself not as a laboratory copy, but as a genuine part of father’s life and existence. So, it is claiming to be the owner of all the property, securities, and investments that were amassed by our dear parent. All that it has left to do, it says, is to move into our father’s roles and positions, as if they were only a part in some stage play.

“We don’t know what to do, so we seek your advice and assistance. What are we to do? The situation is confusing and frustrating for us.”

“The double has possession of Dad’s expensive mansion. We have for years lived in our own separate apartments. He has control of all the bank accounts and equity holdings. What can we do when the double has taken over everything and claims to be Mr.John Thomas? Our mother passed away years ago and is not around to witness this scandalous outrage. Is there any legal action that the two of us can take?”

Attorney Morse wrinkled his forehead. “Since your father left no written will, his estate is termed intestate and must be distributed according to what the legal statute requires. If it were not for the existence of the manufactured duplicate being, there would be a very simple process for transferring the entire estate to your father’s two descendants. But there is this complication that has arisen, and as far as I know there has been no decision anywhere about what is to happen if the duplicate exercises a claim over the property involved.

“What can I tell you? I am not a fortune-teller who knows what is going to occur in the future. The creation of duplicates is just too new and recent for any definite rules to guide their rights and legal powers. The law is always trailing behind the developments that come from modern science and technology.

“I would be entering a risky field full of potential dangers. But, if you wish, I can bring suit against this second John Thomas as, in effect, an imposter and a fraud. Our hope will have to be that the court that takes up your case will see the matter our way.”

Both Gary and Sheila gave their assent to his proceeding against the duplicate.

Jack Morse shook hands with both new clients and they left him to carry out some legal research around what appeared to be an unanswered question at law.

Attorney Louis Doty had never represented or dealt with a duplicate before. He scrutinized the face of the human-looking form with uninhibited care, ignoring the truth that fabricated copies of biological persons also possessed self-consciousness.

“You say that you can remember the exact date when the deceased individual who ordered you made for him informed you that he intended to leave his entire personal estate to you exclusively.”

“Yes, that is correct, sir,” answered the copy of the original John Thomas. “It was on May 15, of my third year living with my owner. He was in a fierce, serious quarrel with both of his children over their expensive mood of living and the astronomical expenses they were racking up for him to pay. He was an extremely economical soul. Some called him a penny-pincher behind his back, I understand.”

“But he never drew up or signed any document indicating that was his wish for what he had accumulated?”

“Not that I know of, no,” declared the duplicate.

“And you know of no change of mind that ever happened about his property?”

“No.”

The lawyer thought privately for several moments. “The brother and sister have no written will that specifies any particular distribution. The only factor that their side might try to argue is your status as a constructed entity rather than one born by natural process. But I believe that I can overthrow any assertion against your character. After all, an estate can legally be left to a pet dog or cat, and has oftentimes. Certainly, a duplicate copy of the deceased is more worthy of consideration and acceptance than any dumb animal.”

“You are sure of that, then?” asked the desperate double.

“As certain as I can be about anything having to do with what a court is going to decide,” smiled the legal advocate.

Jack Morse believed that many disputes could be advantageously settled through pre-trial consultations and negotiations. That was why he telephoned the office of Louis Doty to set up meeting as soon as possible.

The two lawyers agreed to come together for a talk at the Bar Association hall, in the gourmet restaurant in one portion of the large building.

The pair had several times faced each other as spokesmen of different sides in a trial before some judge. They knew what the other was like in those kind of preliminary discussions.

Jack began the exchange by presenting an audacious offer to the other side.

“I think it would be fair to everyone concerned if we settled out of court, avoiding the expenses and uncertainties of the judicial process. This is what I propose: that we divide the overall estate in a manner fail to both sides. I offer your client a 10% share in the total inheritance. That should keep him happy and content for the rest of his existence on this planet.”

Louis Doty gulped and gasped. He only began to speak after re-establishing full self-control.

“I do not see any reason for my client to make any compromise on his justifiable demands for the full benefit of what the law will, in the final analysis, grant to him. As far as I can tell, our victory shall turn out to be a total one. There is no reason for this version of John Thomas to water down what he has coming to him.”

“That is final?” asked the perplexed, stymied Jack Morse.

“As final as a sure thing can be,” provocatively returned Doty.

In the crowded courtroom, the opposing sides sat at parallel tables facing the judge’s bench. Neither of the siblings looked at the duplicate, neither did the latter ever take a glance at them.

The presiding magistrate called upon Attorney Jack Morse to call his first witness. He had won a coin toss to be the first to begin the trial. It was Gary Thomas who was summoned to be the first to take the witness chair and testify.

“Did your father at any time indicate to you or tell you that you and your sister Sheila were to be excluded from being the beneficiaries of his estate upon his death?”

“No, sir. That did not happen. Never.”

“But did you experience episodes when he mentioned or hinted at your future inheritance of specific properties, along with your sister, Sheila?”

“Indeed. Many times he commanded me to take very good care of his mansion when he was gone, and not let it fall into disrepair or become decrepit or neglected. He was most insistent on that score.”

“Did your father teach you much about his stock and bond holdings?”

“He kept me abreast of how they grew and prospered, and instructed me how to make necessary changes in their balance and content. This was to be the core of my education in financial management, he told me.”

“And did he teach you to avoid extravagant spending and waste of inherited resources?”

“Yes. He insisted that even with multi-millions, he watched every dollar and cent. His advice to me was to be sparing and always economical in my life style.”

Morse thanked the witness and turned him over to the other side, but Attorney Doty announced that he was going to delay his cross-examination to a later time. The judge recessed the trial for an hour and a half so that everyone could have the opportunity to eat lunch and take a short rest.

Morse encouraged the brother and sister to believe that they were winning the case, up to then. When they returned to the chamber, it was Sheila who was made a witness testifying.

She declared that she had never heard her father say anything about leaving anything at all to his duplicate self. “He understood it to be like a pet or an artificial servant, a sort of complicated, very advanced toy, nothing more than that,” she asserted with emotion.

Sheila went on with answers that confirmed what her brother had said that morning about the general assumptions about inheritance according to blood lines from parent to children. Not a word contradicting that principle had ever been uttered by the deceased father.

When her testimony finished, Louis Doty told the judge that he wished to delay her cross-examination to a later time. That said and done, the case was adjourned till the next day.

Louis Doty began his questioning of the duplicate by asking his name.

“I am John Thomas. That is the name that I was given and by which I go. I have no other way of identifying myself.”

“Yet you do not deny that you are an exact copy of the John Thomas who recently died and whose estate is the object of contention in the law suit now being adjudicated and decided?”

“No, I cannot deny the truth. But my only self-identity is as John Thomas and that is what I call myself.”

“It is therefore something that you shared with the late John Thomas who is no longer with us. Is that right? That name and identity belonged to both of you, not to just him or to you?”

“I have to say yes to that. My name and identity was precisely the same as his. In fact, we were like a single person but having two separated forms. That is how it seems to be to me.”

“And did the other version of John Thomas ever tell you that what he owned, like the mansion that he lived in, was not yours to share with him? That it was only his to have and enjoy, that you yourself had no rights of ownership in any of it?”

“No, I never heard anything like that from him. I would be able to remember if it ever happened. It did not.”

“Then, each one of you saw himself as part of the other one called John Thomas?”

That was how it was. We were both one person, but in two separate parts. That is the way it happens when a copy of someone is created. That is the logic of the new situation that comes about with scientific duplication. How could it possibly be otherwise?”

Attorney Doty told the judge that he was finished, and the witness was then turned over to Jack Morse for the other side in the suit.

“Were you aware that John Thomas had two children, a son and a daughter?”

“Yes, of course I was.”

“Did John Thomas ever speak of them to you in terms of the inheritance that he was leaving to the pair, Sheila and Gary Thomas?”

The witness hesitated a few moments before he gave an answer.

“I recall only one such incident. He was angry and told me that neither one of them deserved a penny of what he had. That they were spoiled brats and would waste anything they could get there hands on. He said that he was never going to make a will, because he didn’t want to throw all he had away on those rotten children he had spawned.”

The face of Attorney Morse was beet red with chagrin at his defeat by the duplicate. He ended his questioning and sat down.

The judge dismissed the witness and made an unexpected announcement.

“If there is no objection, I think that we have heard enough and that a decision can now be made.” He looked at one table, then the other. Then, the judgment came from his mouth.

“Although human duplicates and copies are an entirely new social phenomenon, the law must devise methods of dealing with its implications for the lives that people lead.

“Duplicates are both part of a person and also something beyond themselves alone. Their legal position is an anomaly and contradiction, as so many other concepts have come to be.

“Since the deceased John Thomas had no final will, and since his duplicate shared so much of his life and identity, he must be recognized by this court as the only possible heir with any standing. Had the deceased made any other provision, this decision might have had to be a different one. But there is no evidence that he said or did anything that denies the claim now made by his biological copy.

Therefore, this court awards all properties in the estate of John Thomas to the John Thomas present here today and a party to this suit at law.

“Court dismissed.”

An important legal principle concerning duplicates was established that day.

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