In the Season 3 finale of the PBS hit, Downtown Abbey, young Matthew Crawley was killed in a car accident, leaving his wife and infant son to ponder what happens next. In the Season 4 premier, we find his family arguing over who should manage his estate and where his assets should go. Though set in the 1900’s, the issues raised in the show, and the lessons that can be gained from it, still apply today.

Lesson #1: You Are Never Too Young to Plan.

Many have the mistaken belief that estate planning is only for older people. In 2006, Casey and Melanie Barber and their three young sons, ages 8, 5, and 3 were involved in a car accident in Arizona. Melanie and Casey were killed but their three young sons survived. Since they had no estate plan in place, a court decided who would raise their boys, who would manage their money and when they would receive it. Their family spent several years and hundreds of thousands of dollars in court figuring it all out. Had Melanie and Casey taken the time to get a plan in writing, they would have saved their family significant stress, time, and money.

Lesson #2: Get it in Writing.

Many people make the mistake of thinking that because they’ve talked with family members about who they would want to raise their kids, manage their money, and when they would like to get it, that is what will happen. The fact is, the only way to ensure your wishes are followed is to get it in writing. If not, a court will decide these important matters for your family.

Lesson #3: Protect What You Leave Behind.

Under Minnesota law, if your spouse remarries, their new spouse is entitled to a significant portion of your spouse’s estate. That means the money, family heirlooms, even the lake home that has been in your family for years, could end up going to the family of your spouse’s new husband or wife and not to your own kids. Also, the money you leave for your kids could be lost to their creditors and spouses in the event of a divorce.

However, with proper planning, you can ensure that the money you leave behind is protected from claims of spouses and the creditors and failed marriages of your children.

If you would like to learn more about how you can protect the money you leave behind, visit our video tips page here.

Chuck Roulet
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Nationally Recognized Estate Planning Attorney, Author, and Speaker