Growing Bolder May/June 2013

Page 7


From to Central Florida — Estate Planning Issues on TV and in Real Life Okay, I admit it. I’m obsessed with the television show Downton Abbey. The clothes… that home… the accents… the acting (well, except for Elizabeth McGovern’s simpering)… and the plotlines! Each episode of Downton Abbey delivers an entire course on estate planning, wrapped up in fun. In case you aren’t familiar with Downton Abbey, it is a period drama set in 1912 England, airing on PBS TV. The Crawley family is embroiled in situations of inheritance, family business management and succession, physical incapacity, death of a young parent and spouse, identity theft, prenuptial agreements, and marriage to a citizen of another country. What does a TV series have to do with you? Frankly, everything. Because Downton Abbey is about families. And families are messy. You don’t have to be on TV to have a family full of drama. You may think you don’t warrant an estate plan because you “only” have a regular, middle class life with two children, a dog, a modest home, a 401(k), and an old Corvette convertible that you fixed up and drive in good weather. But the estate planning issues exposed in Downton Abbey apply to your family, too.

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For example: • Sybil Crawley died while her loved ones argued about who had the authority to make medical care decisions for her. Have you designated a Health Care Surrogate in writing? •

Sybil’s family fears that her surviving husband, Tom, will move home to Ireland with Sybil’s child. Have you named a guardian to raise your child if something happens to you? What if you or your spouse is not from the United States. In what country would you expect your child to live?

The farms sustaining Downton Abbey were failing due to poor management by family members. Does your family business have a written succession plan?

Two members of the Crawley family went missing when the Titanic sank. Do you have a Durable Power of Attorney naming someone to act on your behalf if you disappeared or became incapacitated?

Mary Crawley’s husband died in a car accident. Do you have a Will or Revocable Living Trust to give your family guidance at your unexpected death?

• A houseguest died in his sleep while staying at the Crawley’s home. Would you… never mind. Just call 911 if this happens at your house.

Clearly, you don’t have to be an earl or a countess to create an estate plan. Having written estate planning documents protects your loved ones, helps ensure your wishes and desires are followed, and may minimize conflict amongst your surviving family members. A modicum of planning may avoid probate, potentially reduce taxes and other costs, and hopefully circumvent a great deal of the “messiness” that accompanies a death in the family. The next time you watch Downton Abbey, think about your family and your “estate.” Whether your family resembles the Crawleys of Downton Abbey or guests on the Jerry Springer Show, the lesson is the same. Keep your family from being the plot of a TV show. Get your personal estate plan in order. Mary Merrell Bailey is the Managing Partner of Bailey Zobel Pilcher, a boutique law firm in Maitland offering probate, wills, trusts and guardianship services, as well as business succession, asset protection and estate planning. Known as “Your Caring Law Firm,” Merrell and her partners, David Pilcher and Hallie Zobel, offer clients throughout the Central Florida region compassionate, sound legal counsel on very private family matters. Visit or call (407) 622-1900.

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