Maryland fans of the British television show "Downton Abbey" may be surprised to learn that the fictional drama set in Britain contains some important estate planning advice that can help present-day Americans. By making plans for theirestate administration following death, people can help avoid some of the problems that befall members of the show's family.
The first lesson is to sell the house. As viewers have seen, plots and schemes used to try to keep an old family home may be more trouble than they are worth. Parents may think that adult children have an attachment to the family home, but in many cases, the children would prefer to sell the home for a lump sum. The next lesson is to make sure that any estate plan includes a medical directive. The high fatality rate characters in the show may be engineered for television, but it also helps illustrate that death or injury can come at any time, even to one who seems healthy. Leaving written instructions that tell loved ones what actions to take when a person can no longer make medical decisions is very important. Some experts also recommend setting up a health care proxy. The more people that know about someone's medical wishes, the more likely they will be followed.
Third, the show illustrates that certain types of trusts can be used to protect a family fortune from creditors, bad management and even divorce settlements. As an example, a trustee of a dynasty trust may be able to help prevent one short-sighted person from losing everything in a business venture that doesn't pan out.
An attorney may be able to help review a person's financial situation to determine an optimum estate plan. There may be documents that supplement a basic will that would be appropriate.