October 7

7 Lessons from Downton Abbey: Lessons 2-4

Lesson Two -The Good Die Young


Remember, I warned you about spoilers.  As viewers already know, Lady Sybil passed during childbirth in her early 20s. At the time she fell ill, she did not have an Estate Plan which left a few interesting things to consider.

  1. Her wealth. If Lady Sybil had any, it would pass via English law. The common law traditionally splits the Estate between the Husband and children.  In having a Will, Lady Sybil would be able to ensure that her daughter would not inherit money before her first birthday. 
  2. Her health. While Lady Sybil was ill, she was not able to advocate for her own care.  She did not have a Health Care Power of Attorney. A Health Care Power of Attorney is a document that designates who can speak to the doctor on one’s behalf.  Since she did not have a clear directive explaining her wishes, her father, mother, and husband each had differing views on what was best for her. This predicament ultimately caused significant family strife which arguably led to Lady Sybil’s misdiagnosis and resulting death.  
  3. You are never too young to plan for a Health Care Power of Attorney.  It is important to not only consider the impact it will have own your own treatment, but it is also important to consider the impact the documents will have in preventing your family from incurring additional stress, engaging in quarrels and experiencing resentment towards one another. 

Lesson Three – Diversify your trust assets.


An important, yet often ignored rule of law, is that generally speaking all trust assets must be diversified, or the Trustee will be in breach of his duty to the trust. In Downton Abby, the Earl of Grantham found a too-good-to-be-true Railroad investment that he moved a majority of the Estate’s wealth into despite his adviser’s advice.  When the investment went bad, he had no assets he could use to soften the blow. For the Earl of Grantham, ignoring this basic rule of, ‘not putting all your eggs in one basket,’ killed an Estate that had been running for generations (had Matthew not come to the rescue).

Lesson Four – Don’t always allow family to make financial decisions


As previously discussed, the Earl of Grantham ignored his adviser’s advice!  As heirs and non-professionals often do, he thought he knew better than the professional investment advisers.  While in some cases a family member wins out, you should look at improperly managed investments as gambling. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.  For this reason, it often makes sense to designate professional accountants, advisers, attorneys and trust companies to serve as managers of Trust funds.  Making those designations ensures that any and all basic minimum standards are followed. 


Afraid to give the keys to your castle to a professional?


Consider having a professional serve as co-trustee with a family member. Then you get the best of both worlds –comfort and protection.

October 1

Estate Planning: Seven Lessons Learned from Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey is truly a special show. It’s ability to unite people of all ages, sex, and economic standing is rare and noteworthy. Regardless, I’ve found there are two types of people; those who have watched and love Downtown Abbey and those that have not seen it because they think they will not like it.  I myself at one point fell into the latter of the two categories. But after reluctantly watching an episode with my wife, I suddenly knew what all the news articles, water cooler gossip and even the urging of my grandparents was all about. 


Downton Abbey is about several classes of people living under one roof and highlights their relationships as history flies by. While the show has it’s fair share of soap opera drama, it also includes ample historical references, business lessons, politics, betrayal, and believe it or not, legal theories and principals.  


You can learn valuable lessons in Estate Planning by watching the show and while there may be a few spoilers to follow, I hope that together we can learn from this outstanding program. Again, if you have not seen the show, stop reading and go watch it!!


Lesson One – Plan Ahead

The beginning of the show outlines a complex legal situation.  On the one hand, we have an English Earlship and a house that is intended to pass to consecutive male heirs per English law using a type of property ownership called a Fee Tail. On the other hand, we have a massive fortune from Cora’s (the Earl’s wife) rich American father to the Earlship (not directly to his daughter). Cora’s father wanted Cora’s share of the fortune to keep the royal estate that he presumed his heirs would manage alive. However, since Cora had three daughters and no male children, Cora didn’t have anyone eligible to inherit the heir-ship via early 19th Century England.


At this crossroads, the closest male heirs were the father’s first cousins –James and Patrick.  Who, conveniently enough, die tragically on the Titanic. Their death vaulted Matthew Crawley, a man he had scarcely ever met and his third cousin, into the scene as sole heir of the Earlship and his wife’s fortune.


In estate planning, we would refer to this as a generally
unfavorable result.  Due to potentially
poor planning, an individual you never met could inherit your estate. We
commonly refer to these types of people as laughing heirs. Since they did not
know you, they have no need to cry at your death. Rather they laugh with joy
all the way to the bank! 

April 15

New Parents’ Guide to Estate Planning

New Parents’ Guide to Estate Planning

New parents are excited, nervous and ultimately, overwhelmed. Oftentimes, it seems easier for them to fret about the smaller things in raising a child, rather than addressing the truly important aspects of providing for a family. Fortunately, there are simple steps that you can make to ensure that your family will be prepared to manage and overcome many of life’s obstacles. Designing an “estate plan” is the first step that allows sleep deprived parents to rest more easily.

What is an Estate Plan?

Generally, an estate plan involves the creation of legal documents such as a Last Will and Testament or Trust, which allows for, among other things, the: (a) the transfer of property upon an individual’s death or incapacitation; (b) the designation of guardians for children; (c) the determination of who may make medical decisions for incapacitated persons; and (d) minimize any tax obligations. Please visit our previous article “When to Start Planning Your Estate” to learn more.

Benefits for Parents

Guardianship: Regardless of whether your plan centers around a Last Will and Testament or Trust, there are common benefits that each has to offer. Perhaps most importantly, parents may appoint the person that will take care of their minor or special needs child in the event of their passing. Otherwise, a judge unfamiliar with the child’s needs, as well as any unique family dynamics, will make the determination without your guidance.

Customization: A significant benefit of an estate plan is that a Last Will and Testament or Trust may specify the specific disposition of the parent’s property. Alternatively, if a properly executed estate document does not exist, the state’s laws will control what happens. This usually results in an undesired, disproportionate outcome. With a proper plan in place, provisions can set forth what should happen in any number of events. For instance, upon the death of one spouse, should all of the decedent’s assets go to the surviving spouse? Should most go to the spouse with the remainder to the child? What if the child is only 14 years old and a minor? Should funds remain in an account until the minor reaches a certain age? Who controls the account? In short, customization of your plan allows for ingenuity and the outcome you wish to have.

Asset Protection: A properly drafted estate plan, ordinarily consisting of a Revocable Trust, can provide for the protection of assets inherited by your beneficiaries. Specifically, Trusts may prevent divorce, lawsuits, and other creditor situations from acquiring the assets you earned and gave to your loved ones. Another important consideration is a child with special needs or substance abuse problems. Estate planning accounts for these circumstances and ensures that assets are responsibly managed and provided to beneficiaries for use in a manner consistent with your wishes.

Other Advantages

There are several other advantages to estate planning. Convenience in the administration of one’s estate is another reason to create a Will or Trust. The time after a loved one’s passing is very difficult for family members. A well-drafted estate plan can prevent many of the unnecessary, time consuming, expensive and frustrating aspects of administering the decedent’s estate in court. A final positive aspect of creating a plan is the potential to minimize any state or federal tax owed upon your death, thereby allowing your beneficiaries to get the most out of what is rightfully theirs.

How to Begin

Estate planning is a nuanced area of law and it is highly recommended that you retain an experienced attorney. The attorneys at Wiley Etter, LLC provide exemplary estate and business planning services in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey. Our lawyers are available today to provide no-nonsense, custom tailored advice.

Contact Us Today!

February 11

Make Difficult Decisions in Times of Peace, not Tragedy

Making difficult decisions that affect your family is challenging. When those decisions are about money, the stress could be even greater. Adding a significant amount of emotion to the process of decision making hinders your ability to think clearly and objectively about the consequences, benefits, drawbacks, and opportunities that accompany each choice.

There are factors that influence a person’s ability to make good decisions. Being well rested, having just eaten, and remaining analytical instead of emotional are all important to critical thinking. However, one of the biggest factors is the amount of serotonin in your brain. Researchers say that it’s best to make decisions in the morning, while serotonin levels are at their highest. As the day goes on, we often feel indecisive, or unwilling to make difficult decisions. This is in part why stereotypical 2:00am coffee-induced studying sessions are not effective when it comes to learning new material.

When a loved one dies, our lives are thrown out of balance and our body and mind scramble to cope with the loss. During times of tragedy and sadness, it’s more likely for people to be emotional than analytical, to be tired instead of well-rested, and to generally not be at their best when it comes to their physical and mental health. When people experience grief, their serotonin falls below the typical levels in their brain, rendering them less capable of quick, thoughtful decision making. When we experience loss, many of the faculties that are required to make difficult decisions are hindered.

Imagine that you are back in school and have a big exam coming up, but a tragedy occurs the day before the test. If you are caught up with all the reading required for the class, and have studied the material thoroughly before the tragedy, while the circumstances aren’t ideal, you’d likely be able to navigate your way through the exam because you prepared prior to your loss. However, if you hadn’t studied and were completely unprepared for the exam, and then a tragedy occurred, it would be extremely unlikely that you’d be able to put aside your grief to study and learn all the new material to receive a passing grade.

Wiley Etter, LLC supports clients in making difficult decisions, not just during times of tragedy and loss, but well before that. We provide clients the chance to check a difficult item off the list of situations that must be taken care of after a death in the family. We can provide stability and a plan moving forward during a time of disarray. We encourage our clients to not wait until they’re sad and distracted to make difficult financial decisions, but rather to consider all available options while they’re healthy and clear-headed.

November 30

Fight Anxiety with Preparation

We live in an anxious society. Many of us worry about our families, our jobs, and whether we can make ends meet. Anxiety can manifest itself physically, cognitively, or emotionally – and sometimes, all three. Stress is common, normal, and part of navigating through life. While everyone experiences anxiety for different reasons, these five situations are when it may be the most prevalent:

  • When the outcome is perceived to be important
  • When the situation is new
  •  When there is unpredictability
  • When you feel like you have no control over the outcome
  • When you are dealing with other life stressors at the same time

Think about the most exciting ventures we partake in. Consider events such as starting a family, starting a new job, or traveling. All the best parts of life come with an undertone of anxiety because it’s important to us, it’s new and unpredictable, we don’t always have control over the outcome, and we are always trying to balance everything happening at once.

The key to overcoming anxiety is confidence, and the key to confidence is preparation. Being prepared for life’s unpredictability and making sure your family is taken care of would alleviate your stress on a day-to-day basis. Having a financial game-plan for your family for all scenarios puts you back in control of the most important aspects of your life.

Zack Etter (of https://www.mymentalplaybook.com, Master of Education focusing on sports Psychology and also conveniently Attorney Etter’s little brother) recently worked with a baseball player who was having difficulty hitting a curveball. Would it be sensible to have said, “We better hope the pitchers only throw fastballs?” Of course not. Having a plan in your back pocket for the worst-case scenario, and knowing that when it comes, everything is going to be okay – that’s the best way to minimize anxiety in an unpredictable world.

Wiley Etter, LLC provides clients with the opportunity to ease their anxiety. By preparing for life’s curveballs, we can ensure that your family remains protected! Wiley Etter, LLC focuses its clients to accomplish their strategic goals. Concerned about a partnership dissolution? Sign an operating agreement. Concerned about an unexpected death or disability? Prepare a Revocable Living Trust.

Whatever is causing you anxiety, we believe that meeting with a qualified planning attorney will help reduce your anxiety and help your family thrive! Taking care of your family and finances in a thorough, responsible way, provides unmatched comfort. Let’s turn one of life’s biggest stressors into a positive, freeing experience. You can take the first step to taking better control of your finances today.

Check out, Zack Etter’s new book https://www.mymentalplaybook.com/ and ask yourself, how will sports analogies help you gain control of your financial future!

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