Estate Planning Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I

November 19, 2010
The Trio   Deathly Hallows scene 01 Estate Planning Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I

The film's three heroes, undoubtedly hurrying to probate court

As we all know, many films do not take the time to peruse the estate planning effects caused by its characters and events.  I found that “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I”, released Friday, was a fine exception.  In fact, it was the earliest that a film introduced estate planning topics since “Death at a Funeral”.

However, as you will see below, this early bird did not quite catch all the worms.

Spoiler alert:  Don’t read the first three sections if you don’t know what character died in the previous film, “The Half-Blood Prince”, and would be disturbed by finding out in this blog, of all places.

Choice of Executor

Early in the film, Rufus Scrimgeour, the new “Minister of Magic” (akin to a head of state, like a prime minister) told the three heroes, Harry, Ron and Hermione, what the late Professor Dumbledore left them in his will.  We will assume then, that Scrimgeour was Dumbledore’s executor.

If so, Dumbledore’s choice seems odd.  Why didn’t he choose his brother, Aberforth?  Why not his lifelong friend, Elphius?  Dare I say it, but wouldn’t colleague Professor Snape have been a more likely choice, at least at the time the will was drafted?

However, it is not up to the attorney to choose the executor, so we’ll let this pass.

Gifts of Tangible Property

During the same early scene, Scrimgeour gave each of our heroes a tangible item from Dumbledore’s estate.  The series makes plenty of references to the various “knick-knacks” in Dumbledore’s collection. The timing between Dumbledore’s death and this scene cannot have been longer than three months.

So how could Scrimgeour have gotten through probate so quickly?

It truly would have to be an act of wizardry for an executor (a head of state, no less) to gather all of Dumbledore’s bric-a-brac, find a certified appraiser, have each item valued, prepare the equivalent of a Form 706 for estate taxes, pay the taxes and any liabilities, then disburse the gifts without requiring bond, all during the distractions of a potential upheaval in the Ministry.

Quite dubious, indeed.

Items Not in the Estate

Dumbledore also left Harry an item that was no longer a part of the estate.  Under “ademption” rules, if a will gives a beneficiary an unowned item, the beneficiary is not entitled to receive anything, even the item’s cash value.

If Dumbledore’s gift adeemed, Harry is most likely out of luck.  However, depending on local law, if the item was eventually returned, Harry may then be entitled to it.

Kudos to the movie for introducing the topic, but perhaps a short lecture on the local rules would have been warranted.

Renunciation of Rights

Earlier, a character unilaterally decided to wipe out all memory of his or her existence from the minds of beloved family members in order to protect them.

But wouldn’t doing so deny him or her of any rights to the family estate when the time came?

This was a nice public service by the filmmakers – another reminder of the risks of do-it-yourself planning.

Guardianship

Certainly the biggest issue raised throughout the whole Harry Potter saga is the appropriateness of the Dursleys as Harry’s guardians.  The human Dursleys were consistently inattentive, nasty, and abusive to wizard Harry throughout the series.

It is never made completely clear what mechanism existed to place Harry.  Did the Potters make this decision?  Did a human or wizard court decide?  Is there or should there be some kind of treaty between humans and wizards to help determine such questions of custody and the children’s best interests?  Was there ever a joint comprehensive study of the risk factors?

The director seems to believe that we innately understand British Wizard and Muggle Guardianship law.  For goodness sakes, throw us a bone, or a wand so to speak.

Final Disposition

Despite these concerns, you will certainly appreciate the effort to include estate planning themes.  Perhaps next summer’s installment will “close the estate” more completely.

3 notary seals (out of 4).

 Estate Planning Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I
 Estate Planning Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I

Scott

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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