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Estate Planning Lessons From ‘Manchester by the Sea’

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There are some tremendous lessons to be learned from this movie, when it comes to estate planning.

Lesson #1:  Have an estate plan if you own anything worth value.  If you have minor children, it should be almost mandatory.

The brother who passes away in the movie was told by his doctors he had only a short time left to live.  With that in mind, he got his “affairs in order” and hired a lawyer to draft him an estate plan.  This included naming guardian for his teenage son.

This was good, because in practice, many parents delay this — and if they’re on the wrong side of the coin, it can mean disastrous, life-altering consequences for their minor children. I will never understand the complexity of the human psyche, but there is this grave sense of risk involved in always believing that we are immortal temporarily. The idea that we will just “do it tomorrow” is lathered in false assumptions.

Lesson #2:  Ask your guardians and trustees before you name them.

For those who have seen Manchester, I’m not sure if you realize how common it is to find people who do their estate planning and yet never share their decisions with their nominees or loved ones.  This is a tremendously bad idea.  One that I cannot underscore.

If you name a guardian for your child, tell — even better, ask — your prospective guardian first. What if they don’t want to do it?  What if they are not comfortable?  What if, after talking to them, you change your mind about their qualifications?

In Manchester, Casey Affleck loves his nephew, but with the things going on in his life, he might not be able to give his nephew the time he needs.  Remember that naming a guardian is life-changing not just for your child, but for the guardian and their family.  Manchester is a good example of this.

Not a single one of my clients has this problem, because I force them to have that conversation.  And if they don’t, I will invite it myself.

Lesson #3:  Don’t let strangers make your decisions.

I’m going to say this loud and clear.  Don’t trust the courts and judges and strangers to make the best decision for you and your family.

In Manchester, a potential court battle ensues over who should be the child’s guardian.  As difficult as the choices appear, courts and judges are just as confused, if not entirely bombarded with other cases, as to making the right decision.

I enable my clients to make decisions and take matters into their own hands. We make their wishes known. We exclude people who should not have business raising their kids.  We put rules in place, and we protect from potential risks.

Courts can only cleanup a mess.  They are not built to avoid one.

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