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Estate planning in the shadow of the Abbey, part 1: get a will

“Walking the talk” is a current phrase for an age-old reality. It is all too easy, in the abstract, to say people should take a given action. It is often more difficult, however, to actually follow through and do so.

Sometimes this is simply due to human psychology, in which inertia creates a gap between aim and execution. At other times, it is because putting talk into action is likely to meet with some sort of resistance.

Consider, for example, the latest estate-planning issue to arise on “Downton Abbey,” the wildly popular British TV series about an aristocratic family confronting the modern world.

In previous seasons, estate issues have already been high profile. After all, the institution of primogeniture – inheritance to the oldest male heir – has provided much of the back story for the unfolding plot lines.

Last night, estate planning – or the apparent failure to do so – came to the fore once again.

In the story, the character of Matthew is heir to the Downton fortune because the Earl of Grantham, the head of the estate, has no son. He and his wife have three daughters, but no son.

Matthew died at the end of season three in a tragic car accident. The death occurred just after Matthew’s wife Mary, the oldest of the three daughters, gave birth to a son.

Matthew was a lawyer. And lawyers of course often counsel people to get a will and other elements of an estate plan in place.

But Matthew, it appeared, did not walk the talk. At the time of his untimely death, no will was found.

In part two of this post, we will discuss what happened next and what implications it has for modern-day estate planning.

Source: MarketWatch, "3 retirement lessons from 'Downton Abbey'," Jan. 6, 2014

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