On Christmas day I joined many Americans at the movie theater and saw Manchester by the Sea, starring Casey Affleck (actual winner of Best Actor award). Not your typical uplifting holiday movie (read: depressing), I was struck by one key part of the plot that enabled the rest of the story to unfold.
The movie unwinds like this: Lee, an irritable, lonely handyman in Boston gets a call one day that his older brother Joe’s heart has given out and he needs to make his way back to his hometown, Manchester by the Sea, immediately. Upon Lee’s arrival, he learns that Joe has passed away and left Lee as guardian of his teenage son, Patrick. From there, the story focuses on the struggle that Lee faces while trying to cope with his new life as caretaker for Patrick, while also facing the demons that plagued his previous life in Manchester.
At a critical point in the movie, Lee has his brother Joe’s estate plan read to him for the first time by the attorney which includes the following:
- Specifies who will care for his minor son upon his death
- Details how the assets are to be used to provide for the teenager’s short-term living needs
- Details how the assets should be distributed once the boy turns 18
- Sets aside funds to help Affleck’s character Lee relocate from Boston
By all accounts, there was a lot of thought put into the estate plan by Joe and the attorney drafted the legal documents accordingly. And when you consider that approximately 55% of Americans don’t have any sort of estate plan in place, Joe was actually ahead of the game. Unfortunately, like many, that’s where the process ended. To quote the captain in Cool Hand Luke, “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”
As I sat there in a pool of popcorn and red vines, I couldn’t help but think this whole movie could have been avoided if Joe had only communicated his estate plan to those affected. Before drafting any legal documents, there needs to be a conversation with the caretakers of your estate (e.g. guardian, trustee, power of attorney, etc.) about your objectives and intentions, and consent provided by those acting on your behalf before you’re no longer able to do so. For those that have dealt with messy estate settlements, you’re familiar with the additional stress that accompanies an already highly emotional time if your life.
We understand the sensitivities that come with talking about death or discussing financial matters with your loved ones. At Cordant, we use the Financial Blueprint to help make sure clients communicate their estate plans to their loved ones so when the music starts playing and it’s time to exit stage left, the natural grieving process can take place absent of any confusion on what happens next. After all, we all can’t have a Hollywood ending.
At Cordant, we help Intel and other corporate employees develop and communicate an estate plan that aligns with their objectives in addition to tailoring a financial plan and investment portfolio to meet their goals. If we can help in any way, please get in touch here.
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