MORE ESTATE PLANNING LESSONS FROM DOWNTON ABBEY

          My wife is a big fan of Downton Abbey, so at least once each season we are obligated to reference this hit PBS series in our newsletter.  We have already written about general estate planning issues raised in the early seasons of the show.  Fortunately, the opening episode of Season 4 provided a wealth of interesting new material.

          Season 3 ended with Matthew Crawley tragically killed in a car accident.  The 36-year-old heir to the Abbey left a wife, Lady Mary, and baby boy behind.  Season 4 opened with the family still grieving and thinking that Matthew died without a will.  England’s intestacy laws at the time recognized only male heirs, so the baby was believed to now be the 50% owner of Downton Abbey.  The family was seen arguing over who could best represent the baby’s interests.  Then Lord Grantham discovers a letter hidden in one of Matthew’s books that turns out to be a hand written will, leaving his entire estate to Lady Mary.  A legal opinion confirms that the will is valid.

          Lessons learned?

1.       As we’ve written before no one is “too young” to create a thoughtful estate plan.  Matthew was only 36, but had a wife and baby, and was heir to a large estate.  He needed a comprehensive plan.

2.       Don’t rely on chance.  Leaving your will hidden in a book is not a good idea.  Make sure that the location of your estate plan documents is known to your trusted family members and helpers.  Also, don’t rely on a last-minute handwritten will to be valid.  Unlike early 20th Century England, Matthew’s will would not have been valid in 21st Century Florida.  Without 2 disinterested witnesses and a notary, Matthew’s letter would have no legal effect.  Knowing his intentions, but not having them carried out would be all the more frustrating.

          As you watch Downton Abbey, enjoy the fading grandeur of the British aristocracy and the secrets and machinations of the characters who live both upstairs and downstairs.  But do learn from the characters’ mistakes, especially when it comes to estate planning.  To learn more about modern day estate planning, attend our next “Truth About Estate Planning” workshop. 

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