Three things I learned about Estate Planning from watching My Name Is Earl - by Daniel L. O’Neil

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on 20 April 2016
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My Name Is Earl is a classic and one of my favorite cancelled television shows. The series ran from 2005 to 2009. It was a hit with many of my closest frat brothers (I graduated from college in 2007) at the time. The show borrowed a bit from some of my other favorite things (Three Stooges and the Marx Brothers) and had an excellent selection of music from Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son” (1x09) to Dr. John’s “Right Place, Wrong Time” (3x09) and Ratt’s “Round and Round” (4x05) to John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom” (4x09) so it was all around enjoyable, and the complete series is currently available for highly recommended binge-watching on Netflix in your spare time.

 

My Name Is Earl provided a humorous, but unflinching look at a contemporary American and his family, friends, and charitably-inclined interests in the broader community he lived in. This show lends itself superbly to Estate Planning topics since the essential components of crafting a proper estate plan include considering your family, friends, pets, and charitable interests in the community.

 These are three things I learned about Estate Planning by watching My Name Is Earl:

1. Earning Forgiveness & It Gets Better (#64: Picked on Kenny James)

 The Context: As a kid, Earl used to bully Kenny. This bullying tormented Kenny as he grew up into a closeted gay adult man in the small town of Camden, New Jersey. When Earl starts his campaign for good karma, Kenny is the first person on his list he tracks down to make amends. By being the person Kenny was most afraid of growing up, Earl made amends by evolving into a GLBTI ally, taking Kenny to his first gay bar, and giving him the confidence to talk to another man for romantic purposes at the bar.

 The Lesson: According to Carson Daly: “do bad things and bad things happen; do good things and good things happen” which seems simple enough. One of the most important things we have at our disposal as humans is the ability to try to make amends for things that happened in the past. This factors into estate planning greatly. For example, if Kenny had executed his Estate Planning documents prior to Earl reappearing in his life (and especially Pre-Obergefell) then his estate planning documents as an unmarried person would probably not have named Earl as a beneficiary or potentially appointed him to any fiduciary role such as Financial or Medical Power of Attorney. The awe-inspiring ability to make amends over time though, find Earl and Kenny becoming relatively close acquaintances. One of the many things unanswered from the Pre-Obergefell canceled series is whether Kenny eventually married or not. If Kenny was unmarried it is likely Earl would find himself through the course of their friendship being appointed as Executor, Trustee, or in another fiduciary role – if not being named a beneficiary in the Will itself to fund his ongoing work to cross the remaining items off of his list – but only if Kenny went back to his Estate Planning lawyer to update his documents to reflect the new changes in his life.

The Takeaway for Estate Planning Clients: This is why we recommend that you annually review your Estate Planning documents to reflect on any changes in your life that have taken place over the past year – maybe there is an Earl in your life that has finally won your forgiveness for something terrible they said or did to you in the past.

2.“Wakey Wakey, Life’s At Stakey” (#204: Seduced seven virgins)

The Context: Earl is relatively unhappily married, again, and his current wife is trying to kill him, again.

 The Lesson: Sometimes we are contractually obligated to people in a marriage that is not exactly working for one reason or another – such as them trying to murder you, or them taking the last Oreo in the house and not putting them on the grocery list. We don’t always know what is going to happen in life. Each day we take our life into our hands on the highway or even just sitting on the sofa watching a TV show. But are you protected with an Estate Planning package of documents in the event that the worst case scenarios come to pass? There are the financial aspects and frustration of having your family go through an intestate administration for your probate assets if you die without a valid Texas Will; there are also the financial aspects of the nonprobate assets if you have not updated your beneficiary designations on those accounts. There are also the disposition of remains issues, say if you are horribly opposed to cremation, if you didn’t appoint an agent to control the disposition then you might be cremated since nobody knew any different. There are also financial and medical/health issues that could take place if you were only severely injured, not completely killed – do you have the financial and medical powers of attorney executed? How about the Directive to Physicians to address what happens with artificial life support? Thinking about an unhappy marriage or wondering if your spouse is going to murder you are not fun things to think about; but they are essential things to think about in connection with your estate plan. Your marital relationship is an extremely important thing in crafting an estate plan initially, and then going back and updating it later on to reflect changes.

 The Takeaway for Estate Planning Clients: If you are planning on a divorce, we can assist you with marital property characterization issues and preparing for divorce litigation. Angela Oaks focuses her entire practice on Texas family law when the time comes to file the Original Petition. Before that, we can assist you with the drafting of certain documents, tracing, characterization, and potentially even negotiating a marital property agreement with your current spouse. The characterization and the impending divorce will have numerous consequences on your estate plan, so we will also be there to update your documents when your divorce is final; and later on for another update if you remarry as well. We are family lawyers, here for your lifetime and all of the changes that can take place in your family unit throughout the course of it. If you are contemplating divorce then start the conversation with us today.

3. “Randy, I told you: no robot dogs. We can only afford the things we need to survive” (#24: Stole a red ‘take a number’ machine)

 The Context: The Hickey boys are stocking up on supplies at a big box store to stockpile in a basement to survive Y2K.

 The Lesson: No two Texans are going to respond in exactly the same way when you ask them what they think about Estate Planning documents and how vitally important they are. The truth is that they are very important – they make sure that your property goes where you want it to go; they make sure that the people you trust are informed that you trusted them enough to handle your affairs; they save the people you leave behind time, expense, and frustration of navigating an intestate administration if you die without a valid Texas Will; and overall, they provide you and your family with peace of mind that you have these Estate Planning documents in place should the worst case scenarios come to pass. Estate Planning documents are not a fun toy like a robot dog; most clients will put them in a safe deposit box or fireproof home safe and never think about them again. But the protection they offer your family will be made apparent when you pass away. Therefore, it is not a luxury that only the 1% needs. Every single Texan needs a Will and Estate Planning package regardless of their income, their assets, or their marital status. So the lesson is in how we bifurcate the necessities from the luxuries. Estate Planning documents are not a luxury, they are a necessity. And I want to make sure that every Texan that needs a Will can get one. With our pricing we don’t make working parents choose between a Will or putting food on the table for their kids. We have a sliding scale pricing system that finds a number that you think is fair, and is a number that you can afford to pay.

 The Takeaway for Estate Planning Clients: As important as the Estate Planning documents are for you and your family, don’t let cost be the sole excuse for why you do not have them in place. Frye, Oaks, Benavidez & O’Neil, PLLC understands that not every Texan is able to afford full-priced Estate Planning documents. We work with you to find a price that you can afford and gives you what you need. Don’t let price be the one thing that prevents you from starting the Estate Planning conversation. Because a minor investment today for these documents can solve numerous costly and frustrating problems down the line for the family, friends, pets, and charitable entities you leave behind that you didn’t appropriately plan for with a Will, trust documents, updated beneficiary designations, and other Estate Planning maneuvers.

 If we can help you with your Estate Planning needs please call us today.

 713-227-1717

 

 

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