Harville-Stein Law Offices, LLC


FOLEY, AL 36535
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A Look at the Counterintuitive

By Dean D. Stein, CMA

Coun·ter·in·tu·i·tive (kountr-n-t-tv, -ty-) adj. Contrary to what intuition or common sense would indicate: as in: "Scientists made clear what may at first seem counterintuitive, that the capacity to be pleasant toward a fellow creature is..... hard work" (Natalie Angier).

I have always liked the word counterintuitive. I think it is because it makes you think past what you first would have thought would be the answer to, path of, conclusion about, reason for or outcome of some process or event and seek a deeper understanding. It is a focus that makes you think more broadly and completely, beyond the apparent or “first blush” thoughts. It can be hard to articulate an example of something counterintuitive, but you usually know it when you see it. I have come across some examples of counterintuitive situations in the business world. This would include this situation, trying to spread work around to many different people, thinking it will get it done faster or even more efficiently. This might sound like a reasonable idea, but typically, when you spread work around, you tend to lose an inherent "efficiency" that is gained by having a few persons specialize and become experienced in something, and therefore more capable and fast at performing it. Another example is that sometimes, in the business setting, a common thought is "more work always means more money". But, really, only more profitable work, means more money. If you are a small business owner, you should never take a job just to “keep staff busy”. I know that the pressure to have work means that many small business owners will take marginal jobs, but that is really counterintuitive! Many times, if you look at the profitability of that job, it was either too low, or worse yet, nonexistent. If you eliminate those jobs with little to no profitability, or even a loss, you will find you can do less work and make the same amount of money, or even make more money, by avoiding those jobs that end in a loss and reduce your overall profits.

In the area of probate law, I think I have found another example of something that can be considered counterintuitive. In an administration of an estate, that is, opening an estate where there is no Will left by the decedent, said to have died “intestate”, the person seeking to open the administration does not need a waiver or consent from any of the heirs-at-law to get the estate open, in fact, the heirs-at-law may not even know the estate administration is being opened! By contrast, when you probate a Will, or “die testate”, a waiver must be received from each person defined as an “heir-at-law” in order to open the probate estate without a hearing, even if they are not named in the Will of the decedent! If that is not counterintuitive, I don't know what is. However, there is some logical basis for this in the law. In an administration, those who are to inherit, or heirs-at-law, are defined by state law, called the law of intestate succession, and therefore, the thought goes, those individuals rights are inherently protected by the administration process. In an administration, the Administrator is limited in what they can do by the fact that the court must approve most significant actions of the Administrator. Again, by contrast, in a Will, heirs-at-law can be excluded from the Will, what is usually thought of as “disinherited.” In order to give an heir-at-law who would be included under intestacy in an administration the right to assert any rights they may have should the Will be set aside, or successfully contested, they must be given notice of the intent to probate that Will. Also in a Will, the executor, executrix or personal representative may have broad powers to act under the Will, once the Will has been successfully admitted to probate. This is the process, counterintuitive as it may be! 

This article is generally based on Alabama law, the law of your state can vary widely. This is not intended to constitute, nor should be taken by you as legal advice and is not intended and does not create an attorney/client relationship.

Dean Stein, CMA, is an attorney who has a Masters degree in business and is a Certified Management Accountant (CMA).


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