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The Grand Budapest Hotel: Wills, Codicils and Chaos, Oh My!



After what seems like an eternity, a sophisticated, intelligent comedy has hit the theaters.  The Grand Budapest Hotel deals with the competing interests of the beneficiaries of the estate of Madame D., a rich octogenarian who has a special fondness for the concierge of the Grand Budapest Hotel.  The handsome, oily, at-times profane and always charming concierge is played by the inimitable Ralph Fiennes. 

Focus. He’s probably thinking about his estate plan.  Are you thinking about yours?

The plot of the movie is full of twists and turns but there are no spoilers here. (The movie is definitely worth the price of admission.)  The most important story elements involve two wills and over 600 amendments.  As ridiculous as 600 amendments and a secret will may be, the film does point out several fundamental truths about estate planning that everyone should keep in mind.

  •  If you plan to change major items in your will, consider drafting a new will instead of adding numerous amendments (otherwise known as codicils) to the existing one.  This will simplify the administration of your estate and keep your wishes clear.
  • The movie uses a secret will as a plot point.  Keep this idea for your next great unwritten novel or film script that you plan to pitch in New York/Hollywood/London/Hong Kong/Bollywood.  In real life, a secret will is never a good idea, even if you love drama.
  • Know your beneficiaries.  If you have a charming, accommodating concierge or butler (and it doesn’t hurt if they look like Ralph Fiennes) to whom you want to leave your entire estate, for goodness sake, make sure that all your other beneficiaries know about it.  The larger your estate the greater the need for clear communication.
  • Think long and hard about the executor of your estate.  Pick someone with whom you have a strong rapport.  Technical knowledge is wonderful but not always necessary. (In other words, you don’t have to pick an attorney as your executor.) Find someone whom you trust to see your wishes fulfilled to the greatest extent possible.

Estate planning is in the media and in the news lately.   If you want more interesting celebrity stories about estate planning failures and successes, check out this article: http://www.forbes.com/sites/trialandheirs/2014/03/02/oscar-winners-teach-five-lessons-on-estate-planning/  (Who doesn’t want to learn from Elizabeth Taylor?)

Think about your estate plan.  Review your plan if you have one or seriously consider creating one if you don’t have one.  A good estate plan is invaluable, whether you have a charming concierge or not.

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