8 Great Estate Planning Movies of the ‘80s and ‘90s

August 25, 2010

When I came up with this idea, I thought it was original.  However, California attorney and CPA Keith Schiller is years ahead of me, as evidenced by his “Estate Planning at the Movies” website.  With deference to Mr. Schiller, I introduce my 8 favorite movies of the 1980s and 1990s containing estate planning themes (links to imdb.com included):

8.  The Bachelor (1999) – This is a “conditional bequest” film (i.e., the beneficiary wins the gift only if the condition is performed).  If Chris O’Donnell’s character doesn’t get married by his 30th birthday, he will lose his family fortune of $100 million.  The movie was panned upon release, but the condition states a clear time of performance and legal subject matter.  Additionally, the film features hundreds of women in wedding gowns, including Rene Zellweger, angrily chasing O’Donnell throughout San Francisco.  What’s not to like?

7.  Easy Money (1983) – Another conditional bequest film.  Rodney Dangerfield’s character must diet, stop smoking and stop gambling for one year to receive $10 million from his mother-in-law’s estate.  If the condition was carefully and specifically drafted, including clear definitions of “gambling” and “diet”, it could very well have been enforceable in real life.

6.  Little Big League (1994) – Jason Robards plays the owner of the Minnesota Twins who dies and leaves the team to his 14-year-old grandson.  Fun family film, but would Robards’ best interests truly have been served by his trustees allowing a minor that much leeway?

5.  The Rainmaker (1997) – While the main plot involves some David vs. Goliath insurance matter, this movie is a sentimental favorite because the young attorney’s first case is to draft a will.  Based on the John Grisham novel.

4.  Brewster’s Millions (1985) – Conditional bequest movie #3.  Richard Pryor plays a man who will inherit his great uncle’s $300 million estate if he completely spends $30 million in 30 days.  While the conditions were stated in significant detail, they were presented to Pryor by video will, which is not enforceable in any U.S. state.

3.  Titanic (1997) – Spoiler alert – Elderly Rose, presumed dead, tosses overboard a necklace that was presumed lost.  Does this involve ademption (i.e. property listed in the will but is no longer part of testator’s assets upon death)?  Was there detrimental reliance by the crew who was searching for it?  Who would have been the rightful owner of the necklace upon Rose’s death?  Did the orchestra members’ families have any inheritable legal rights against their conductor?  An estate planning mess – no wonder this movie is still frequently discussed today.

2.  Arthur (1981) – Hysterical, well-written movie.  Dudley Moore is a playboy who will be cut off from his $750 million family fortune unless he marries an heiress, but then he meets Liza Minelli.  John Gielgud won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar as the butler.  No specific estate planning documents or mechanisms enabling Arthur’s disinheritance are referenced, but the film is still quite watchable regardless.  (Note – apparently, this is currently being remade – click only if you have a strong stomach)

1.  The Shawshank Redemption (1994) – Remember the scene when the officer was about to throw Tim Robbins off the roof, but Robbins mentions a loophole that will help the officer avoid paying taxes on an inheritance?  This was not the law in 1949 (or now), but the advice is still being queried online.  Oh yeah, great film with universal themes as well.

Suggestions?  Comments?  Don’t hesitate!

 8 Great Estate Planning Movies of the ‘80s and ‘90s


Scott R. Zucker, Esq. is the owner of The Zucker Law Firm PLLC, located just outside the Capital Beltway in Annandale, within five miles of the City of Fairfax, the county seat of beautiful Fairfax County, Virginia. The firm focuses mainly on estate planning services for Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania clientele, and seeks to do so in an affordable and approachable way. People interested in learning more can contact Scott by phone or email.

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