Lessons Learned from Knives Out

If you like murder mysteries and went to the movies this holiday season, there’s a good chance that you saw the film, Knives Out. So far, the film has brought in 70 million dollars in ticket sales and received substantial critical acclaim. Behind the story that makes this film intriguing is a backdrop of estate planning. While the film gets some things correct about estate planning, it gets other things wrong. 


# 1 – “Will Readings” Are Not Common 


During a critical scene, the surviving family gathers to hear the deceased patriarch’s will read. During this reading, an estate planning attorney sits behind a text and reads out the terms of the deceased man’s will. In reality, while many believe that there is a “reading of the will” after a person passes away, this does not occur in real life. Some people are surprised and others even disappointed when they find out will readings don’t exist.


# 2 – Will Contests Are a Common Occurrence


A great deal of Knives Out is spent depicting the family arguing over the terms of the will. Contesting wills has become an increasingly more common occurrence as a growing number of people are deciding to challenge the terms of estate plans. One reason why more will contests are occurring is that people are living longer and the terms of their estate plans are becoming outdated.


# 3 – Undue Influence Happens


Another common reason why wills are challenged is undue influence. If a person can show that undue influence occurred, it can be used to invalidate the terms of an estate planning document. Acts of undue influence are found to occur when a vulnerable person is persuaded to change their estate planning. To establish undue influence, the persuasion must reach a degree where the person is no longer able to freely exercise their independent will. In Knives Out, the family accuses a person of undue influence. This is a common situation as the number of will disputes grows.


# 4 – Slayer Laws Exist Too


After discussing undue influence in Knives Out, the family discusses a “slayer statute”. Under the terms of such a law, a person cannot receive an inheritance from an estate if that person intentionally killed the person who passed away. Even though it might seem extreme, many states including New York have their own slayer laws. What changes between states, however, is what happens if a person is convicted of such an offense. While some states only prevent the person who commits the offense from receiving an act, other states cut off the slayer’s entire line of descendants. New York’s slayer law has been applied to the slayer’s estate as well as the slayer, which blocks the slayer from exercising control over how the victim’s assets are distributed.


Speak with an Experienced Estate Planning Attorney


Estate planning is not easy. Instead, it is full of various challenges, which is not properly navigate can result in additional costs. To schedule a free case evaluation with an estate planning attorney, contact Ettinger Estate Planning today.

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