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Clooney film offers handful of helpful estate planning lessons, P.1

A recent Forbes article highlighted some of the estate planning lessons that were embedded-ironically enough-in a recent film called the Descendants. The film, starring George Clooney, was reportedly nominated for Oscars in a handful of categories.

According to the author of the article, the legal issues intertwined in the film were "painstakingly developed and fact-checked." In fact, the director of the film consulted a professor at the University of Hawaii School of Law, who is also a nationally recognized trusts and estate expert.

the lessons brought out in the film is that "unearned wealth causes conflicts." This is, as the article notes, a common theme in wealthy families. In terms of estate planning, parents often want to provide for the children, but not give them so much that they become lazy or lose ambition. Oftentimes parents will place conditions on the reception of wealth in order to avoid the problems that come from unearned riches. Trusts can be particularly useful for this purpose.

Another lesson that can easily be drawn from the film is that it is important to express your final wishes not only with respect to your finances but also end-of-life care. In many states, this can be done with an advance directive, which is a written statement which indicates one's general wishes regarding health care and appoints a person to make decisions in the event you are unable to do so.

A third lesson from the film is that there are limits to how long a trust can last. According to the traditional "rule against perpetuities," a trust may not last beyond 21 years after lives in being at the time the trust was established, which most often ended up meaning that trusts would last around 100 years. Some states have actually abolished the rule against perpetuities, though, allowing for perpetual trusts.

Residents of other states who want to choose such a state as the location of a trust most often will need some connection to the state, and certain conditions will apply to the trust. Each state has different laws in this area, so a knowledgeable attorney needs to be consulted.

As the author of the article notes, though, President Obama's proposal would end dynasty trusts, so it is important to keep up with the latest developments in this area of law.

In our next post, we'll continue looking at the lessons drawn from "The Descendants."

Source: Forbes, "'The Descendants' Buries Estate Planning Lessons in George Clooney Drama," Deborah L. Jacobs, February 2, 2012.

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