This past weekend my wife and I finally had a chance to watch “Knives Out.”
When the movie first came out in theaters, I assumed it was going to be a cheesy version of the board game Clue. However, as the positive reviews flowed in, I put it on my Must-Watch List. Not only was it a great movie, but I was pleasantly surprised to find an excellent Estate Planning storyline written in.
Below is an Estate Planning attorney’s thoughts that storyline. Spoilers below.
Reading of the Will
It is common knowledge at this point that any Estate Planning story needs to have a reading of the will scene where all the main characters find out they have been written out of the Will. In reality, this never happens. Typically our clients tell their family members who is and isn’t in the Will. If our client does not tell their heirs, we usually send them a copy of the Will once we file for Probate.
Additionally, if the attorney who drafted the Will knew there was going to be a conflict, he should have advised the heirs to get their own attorneys. But the scene where an attorney reads a Will out loud to a bunch of people – it does not happen.
Contesting the Will and Undue Influence
Once the Thrombey family realizes they have been written out of the Will, there is talk about contesting the Will. This is become more common, especially when the heirs are disinherited, and a caretaker is added to the Will.
I am not going to guess what Harlan Thombey’s mental capacity was, but as an attorney, his change would have been a HUGE red flag. If an individual came to me and wanted me to execute the changes that Harlan had, I would not have done it.
If the Thrombey family brought a case against Marta, my guess is it would have settled. The family would have likely kept the house, and Marta would have received some sort of payout.
Either way, it is vital to keep your heirs updated on the changes to your plan. Even if you think your heirs are going to be upset, they should hear about the changes when you are alive, verse after you have passed away.
There is also a brief talk about a Slayer Statute course of action. In a nutshell, had Marta killed Harlan, Marta would not have been able to inherit Harlan’s Estate. Not only that, but Marta’s entire line would have been cut off from the Will. Had Marta killed Harlan and be found guilty, the law of intestacy would have applied, and Harlan’s children would have inherited.
It is extremely important to update your Estate Plan to reflect your current wishes. Had Harlan really wanted to write his kids out of the Will, he at least made his intentions known. In the movie, the attorney comments that it is his first time reading the Will also. I’m not sure how that would even work, but for a change that drastic, an attorney should be consulted.
Finally, for an Estate of Harlan’s size, everything should have been left if a Trust also. With just a Will, Marta would have to go to court to get the Estate probate is a public setting, so ANYONE would be able to attend. Plus, Marta would be required to file an ‘accounting’ of the Estate, which shows the entire value of the Estate. For privacy reasons, Harlan Estate should have never been left in a Will.
Overall, “Knives Out” got a lot right about Estate Planning. Hopefully, the movie encouraged some people to talk about Estate Planning.