Terry Franklin Featured in Daily Journal “In Recess” Profile
Partner Terry Franklin was interviewed by Daily Journal for the feature profile, “Tree of Life: Lawyer’s knowledge of trust and estate law helped him find deep meaning in his own history.”
In 2001, Terry came across an abstract of his fourth great-grandfather’s, John Sutton, will that was executed 173 years ago, and set out to discover the relationship that shaped his family’s history. Sutton’s will outlined the sale of livestock to fund the relocation of his “mulatto slave Lucie,” Terry’s fourth great-grandmother, her eight children and six grandchildren to freedom.
“All we knew was he was an owner setting free a woman, and her eight kids and her six grandkid s,” Terry explained. “But whether he had a wife and family of his own, whether he just did it out of the goodness of his heart, what the meaning and intent was behind it, we really don’t know.”
Terry traced the will to Duval County, Florida and then in 2014, while at an American College of Trust and Estate Counsel (ACTEC) conference, he and his husband embarked on a road trip to Duval County to find the original will and accompanying court documents.
The documents did not indicate Sutton had another spouse and named a trustee to ensure the safety of Lucie, her children and great-grandchildren. Terry discovered Sutton’s brother had contested the will and a trial took place. The trial transcript showed his brother was unsuccessful and Lucie and her family were set free.
Sacks Glazier Franklin &Lodise partner Meg Lodise attended the ACTEC conference with Terry and recalled his genealogy road trip. Noting will contests are very much a part of Terry’s day-to-day as a trusts and estates litigator, “How coincidental is it that he’s now going back and looking in his family tree…and there’s a will contest in his very own family tree.”
“As a probate litigator, Franklin approaches his family history through the lens of probate litigation,” explained Greines, Martin, Stein & Richland LLP partner Cynthia E. Tobisman. Noting Terry is considered “one of the really great probate litigators in practice right now,” Tobisman said she met Terry at an event where she was riveted by his story.
Admitting he fell into trusts and estates litigation by happenstance, Terry said if he had chosen a different path, he wouldn’t have understood the documents he unearthed.
“I was meant to have those documents,” said Terry, who’s since written several articles about his search and has begun work on a novel. “I was mean to have my ancestors -through my DNA – express to me that there’s more to this story.”
One of Terry’s biggest takeaways, he said, is that we’re all living in the midst of history. He also posed the question, “What is each of us doing to help bend the arc of history towards justice in the long term?”
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