If I were to tell you that money changes people, I expect that you wouldn’t be terribly surprised.  Sure, we all would like to think that we are honorable and moral, but at some point, greed and desire take over, right?  We have all been placed in situations where a softening of our morals could result in financial gain for ourselves.  And yet, while I would like to think the best of people, sometimes I am reminded of just how immoral and classless some people can be. 

The other day I received a call from a potential client, a woman who believed that she was the beneficiary of a trust of which her half-brother was the trustee.  My client had never seen the trust but had been alerted to her potential claims by her half-brother’s wife.  But my client was not in LA and couldn’t meet with me, so she asked her half-brother’s wife to bring me a copy of the trust.

Well, the wife was certainly a piece of work.  It seems that my client’s claims might actually be legitimate and this was music to the ears of the half-brother’s wife… because she is expecting to receive some kind of finder’s fee from my client.  In effect, she is ratting out her husband of 12 years for failing to distribute assets from the trust to my client and now she thinks that she will share in my client’s payday.

What made the interaction with the wife more discomfiting was that she was bold and brazen about her interests, laughing and joking about it, and in one instance, in a teasing and “playful” manner, grabbing me around the shoulders and shaking me while she asked me how much she should ask for.  My concern grew serious, however, when she refused to turn over the trust documents to me, instead preferring to hand them to my client when she arrived in LA.  My antennae immediately went up; I couldn’t help but think that there was a strong chance that the trust documents might never get into my client’s hands.

At one point she said something completely out-of-line; not because of its racist twinge, but because of her complete ignorance of human character.  The wife, an African-American woman, said these exact words:  “You know how we people are when it comes to money.”  While I have always marveled at the idea that racism is acceptable when it is promulgated within its own race, her shortsightedness was striking and I had to immediately disabuse her of the notion that greed and avarice were restricted to one particular race of people. 

Money changes everybody, regardless of race, religion, creed or class.  Add to that jealousy and covetousness and you have a recipe for backstabbing and selfishness.  It certainly gives me cause for concern in all of my dealings.  Think of it this way- is it possible that there are rewards out there for you that you are unaware of because someone was too jealous to tell you about it?  Can you even imagine a situation like that?

What happened to us?  Look, I can honestly say that I generally like people- until given a reason not to.  I’ll give everyone the benefit of the doubt.  And yet situations arise in which I am reminded that perhaps my view of the world is clouded in naïveté. 

Maybe it’s just a function of my profession and the type of law I practice.  When you deal with families that have been destroyed in fights over money, you become a little cynical about people.  If they would stab their own brother in the back, what’s to stop them from stabbing me in the back or someone I love?

And don’t think that it has to involve large sums of money.  In my example from the other day, the wife was willing to stab her husband in the back for $10,000.00.  Sounds less like a shakedown and more like a hit, doesn’t it?

Is this a function of the economy; just a normal side effect of a recession/depression?  Or is this simply the way human nature has evolved over time?  Are we “every man for himself?”  How did it all go so wrong? 

Or am I the one who is wrong?  Maybe people generally are good and decent and it is just the one rotten apple that spoils the bunch.  I guess only time will tell on that one.  But I, for one, am not simply going to blindly trust that everyone has the same morals and principles that I do.  Fool me once, shame on me—fool me twice… well, you know the rest.