Real Life Estate Planning Lessons from TV

This past New Year’s Eve, while the world welcomed in a new year, it also lost one of its most unique and beloved figures. Betty White, entertainment icon, passed away on December 31 st , 2021, 17 days shy of her 100th birthday. With a career that spanned eight (that’s correct, eight!) decades across television and film, Betty White was a comedic trailblazer who kept her proverbial comedy ‘fastball’ well into her nineties. Off-screen she was just as prolific as an advocate for animal welfare and racial justice.

America’s Grandma

When celebrities pass away, there is typically a wave of information about their net worth and their estates. Who got what? Who got snubbed? For one, it probably doesn’t help that celebrity family trees are well … complicated. More importantly, we expect the rich and famous to have their sizable affairs in order and when they don’t,the stuff that is nobody’s business quickly becomes everyone’s business!

For Betty White, her estate plans become relevant because she wasn’t just some celebrity, she was more like America’s Grandma. Her life, as well as that of her most well-known character, Rose Nylund on the hit show The Golden Girls, can help educate about the importance of having a well-crafted estate plan as well as considering charitable causes as well.

Here are a few estate planning lessons from life and screen:

Betty White did not have any biological children. She was a Widow for the final 40+ years of her life however she did have a close relationship with three step-children and their families. Under the laws of New York, those step-children were not Betty White’s “distributees” (a legal term of art meaning those who would inherit when someone dies without a will). Accordingly, if Betty White’s estate plan included a desire to leave assets to her step-children, she would need to be proactive and have a Last Will &  Testament or a Living Trust stating that. Similarly, Rose Nyland, who spent all those years cohabitating with Dorothy, Blanche, and Sophia would need to create an estate plan to leave assets to her dear friends. Rose could have created a plan which, not only left money to the other Golden Girls but could have even specified that if Sophia went back to “Shady Pines” nursing home, the money destined to her would instead go to the others.

Estate Planning Documents

Estate planning documents can be as straightforward or complicated as you wish from provisions that hold money in trust for young beneficiaries to holding in in trust for those with special needs or those who may need long-term care. There are already stories about Betty White’s charitable beneficiaries with an array of animal welfare and rescue organizations receiving money as a result of her death. When clients have desired to leave money to charities, planning becomes even more important to make sure that those good causes receive assets based on the wishes of the decedent. Decisions have to be made regarding whether beneficiaries get a percentage of the pie or a fixed amount.

When celebrities pass they remind us all about our ability to make an impact on those around us, our family, our friends, and in Betty White’s case, a lot of worthwhile organizations cementing the fact that her impact on our world will continue long past her death.

Contact Herzog Law Firm for your Free Estate Planning Consultation.