Star Wars: Estate Planning Advice from a Galaxy Far Far Away

Star Wars: Estate Planning Advice from a Galaxy Far Far Away

The newest installment in the Skywalker family saga, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, hit theaters in mid-December and gave fans plenty to talk about. If you haven’t had a chance to see the movie yet, don’t worry. This post will have no spoilers in it! If you have seen the movie and want to delve more deeply into some of its mysteries, we recommend the following  blogs and articles which DO contain spoilers:

Variety

The Atlantic

Tor

The Ringer

As in all the ones that came before, there are meaningful truths in this latest movie that we can apply to various aspects of our lives. The dominant themes of family, redemption, hope and balance flow through every plot line like the Force flows through a Jedi. But what can Star Wars teach us about estate planning?

This Isn’t Going to Go the Way You Think

About half our clients have never experienced a probate or been involved with closing the estate of someone who has died. Yet most of us have an idea of the “perfect” transition from this world to the next. We would pass away quietly, our loved ones at our side, and our next of kin would simply and easily carry out the directives from our last will and testament. Family heirlooms would be given to those who treasure them, the executor would liquidate our estate and divide the remaining assets equally among our heirs, who would be grateful for and responsible with what they receive. Our remains would be neatly laid to rest in a respectful manner, and our legacy would be complete.

Naturally, we would all prefer that the process go smoothly for our loved ones after we pass away. But that depends on a great number of factors. Many people say they want a “simple will” that leaves their estate outright to their heirs. Unfortunately, there’s nothing simple about the complex and technologically advanced world in which we live. Banks and investment companies have multiple layers of security, so even if your heirs have the right to close one of your accounts, they may still have to provide several types of documentation and fill out multiple forms in order to finalize the process. Gone are the days when your child could call up the bank president, who knew you personally for decades, and tell them how to handle the funds. Additionally, in some instances, “simple” instructions can create more hassle and confusion due to ambiguities that a more rigorous and complex directive could avoid.

Most people don’t realize that a will alone will not avoid probate, and that in Colorado, a will must be filed with the court within ten days. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it does burst the bubble a bit if the deceased expected the process to be conducted privately by a friend or family member. Yet the main reason why most estates need to be probated is that the executor’s decisions are often challenged by the heirs, who may have wanted the process to be conducted differently. This is particularly problematic when there is real estate involved and multiple heirs. Get three people in a room, and it’s guaranteed they’ll disagree on something fundamental. What happens if one heir wants to sell the house, but another wants to rent it out and split the income? No one wants their death to cause a rift in their family, or see their children squabbling over money. While not every family will experience such conflicts, it’s more common than most people think. Death has a way of changing things.

Let the Past Die. Kill it if You Have to.

Without going into too much detail about this memorable line from one of the main characters, we will reveal that the message of the movie contradicts the idea that cutting ties with the past (or literally killing your family) is the only way to become your own person. Yet we often hear clients say that they don’t want to manage things “from beyond the grave” or that once they die, they should “stay dead.”

The desire to have your children stand on their own two feet and create their own future is an admirable one, and something that we can all get behind. Yet we are never truly free of our heritage. The values we were taught as children and the example that our parents and grandparents leave for us contribute to our characters, and, in many ways, inform and affect the choices we make for ourselves. Far from being controlling, setting up sound systems that protect your heirs from unforeseen circumstances can be a loving and welcome act, providing, of course, that the family communicates openly with each other about the reasons behind such decisions. We will all come to the end of our time in this world. But there’s a vast difference between restrictions designed to control, and protections designed to safeguard what we leave behind.

It’s Not Too Late. I Can Help You.

When is the best time to get your affairs in order? Right now. If you’re still alive, it’s not too late! Darth Vader left a mess behind. He may have turned away from the dark side at the very end, but his actions in destroying the Jedi temple and imposing a tyrannical empire across the universe were not so easy for his son and daughter to undo. Within one generation, another evil demagogue and fascist government had risen to take his place. Luke and Leia really had their work cut out for them trying to fix that mess, and it’s not really surprising that they weren’t able to do it effectively, despite their best efforts and some truly heroic compatriots. Will it surprise you to know that within three years, most people have spent the entirety of their inheritance? Or that the third generation of self-made millionaires tends to be the typical entitled and self-destructive “trust fund baby?” It IS possible to safeguard your legacy, but it doesn’t happen unless you take concrete action.

The Last Jedi is about hope, and we all have great hopes for our futures and our children’s futures. In order for that hope to be fulfilled, a knowledgeable professional who has seen things go wrong should be involved, guiding the process and identifying potential pitfalls. Take the advice from the characters in The Last Jedi and give us a call.

Tienne McKenzie
Tienne McKenzie
tienne@themckenziefirm.com

Tienne is a paralegal specializing in estate planning.