“Trusts and Estates in Popular Movies” by Attorney Beth Burgee (Audio)
There are many movies that use estate planning as a catalyst for the main plot; whether it is reading a will aloud to the family, or a disgruntled family member contesting the will. But how much do these movies get right? Let’s take a look at some of the more popular movies that showcase these issues.
Knives Out (2019): This exciting ‘whodunit’ film is centered on a family who disapproves of their father’s last wishes regarding the future of his wealthy estate. This film features many aspects of estate administration, though not all of them are correct.
- The Slayer Rule: This is a heavy plot device throughout the film. This rule essentially states that you cannot inherit from someone you have killed which is in fact the rule in most states.
- Reading of the Will: This common movie trope is not required in Maryland and is not a common practice. Another culprit for this misconception is the movie the Grand Budapest Hotel which happens to be one of my favorites.
- The Probate Process: Most movies fail to highlight just how involved the process of estate administration can be especially when there is probate involved. In Knives Out, the probate process is not mentioned at all. It appears that the assets are transferred magically and immediately with the end scene focusing on the main character taking ownership of the decedent’s house that is now “hers.” This is not the case in real life as there many steps to be followed in the time consuming process.
The Aristocats (1970): This lighthearted Disney movie focuses on a group of cats who are the sole inheritors of their owner’s fortune, and a sneaky butler who tries to steal the fortune for himself. This movie highlights a part of estate planning that many people do not know about.
- Pet Trusts: It is possible to leave your estate to your beloved pet in a trust. However, there are a few requirements. You cannot leave them solely to your pets outright, someone must be appointed as trustee and caretaker.
- Trustee’s Fiduciary Duty: While the butler tries to abandon the cats to gain the fortune for himself, in the real world, the appointed trustee has a duty to care for the pets due to the terms of the documents.
Rain Man (1988): This movie is about a man named Charlie who finds out that his late father left his multimillion dollar estate to a son he never knew existed. Some estates and trusts issues highlighted in this film include:
- Privacy Offered by a Trust: If there is a trust, the beneficiaries of the trust are entitled to certain information. Since Charlie is not a beneficiary of the trust created for Raymond, he is not entitled to the information pertaining to the trust. However, if assets go through the probate process, then the public has access to all of the information involved in probate.
- Special Needs Trust: It is not directly stated in the film that the assets are left to Raymond in a Special Needs Trust, but in the real world that is how the plan should be set up. This type of trust would provide for Raymond’s care without threatening any benefits he may receive.
While these movies show the importance of estate planning in a fun way, they also show that they are not always correct. This is why it is important to contact an estate planning attorney to make sure you do not end up like those in these movies. If you are interested in learning more about different estate planning techniques, we invite you to attend a free estate planning webinar!
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