Monday, January 30, 2012

"Downton Abbey" and the Need for Estate Planning

It seems like my entire family has become obsessed with PBS' Downton Abbey and have re-arranged their Sunday nights so that they don't miss an episode.  When I watched the first episode, I was subjected to repeated questions about the terminology regarding the future of the estate after the current Lord dies.  Of course, as it is set in the early 1900's in England, the terminology is a bit dated for today's purposes.  However, the underlying issues surrounding the future of the estate are ones that are faced by many people today, although most of us don't have to wear the fancy outfits on a daily basis.

Specifically, the show revolves around who will inherit the estate when the current Lord dies.  After the death of the presumptive heir (I'm not spoiling much, it happens in the first episode), the family is forced to examine whether the estate will be passed along to the Lord's eldest daughter or to the next of kin, who is unknown at the time.

Luckily for us in 2012, our intestacy and estate laws are not nearly as arcane and a random cousin who no one has ever met is unlikely to show up and claim your estate.  However, the show does serve as a great reminder that as the calendar turns to 2012, the Premiership clubs enter the FA Cup and it's a good time to review your estate planning documents and make sure they are up to date and really reflect what your plans are for your estate after you pass.

This is especially true if 2011 was a year of big changes as it was for many people in my life.  Maybe you had a child, bought a home or, if you're really lucky, hit the lottery.  Regardless, you should be checking your will and other documents to be sure they are accurate. 

Some will design a will that lasts for the next 30 years and doesn't need to be revised, but it should still be considered at least once a year.  For others, life is constantly changing and you want to make sure your documents are up to date and accurate so that the cousin you've never met doesn't ride in on the (hopefully proverbial but possibly literal) white horse and inherit your assets.

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