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5 Estate Planning Lessons in Knives Out  

august 03, 2021 | estate planning
5 Estate Planning Lessons in Knives Out

With a star-studded cast and interesting, entertaining plot, there’s more than one reason Knives Out has been such a success in the box office. At LegalShield, we love it for those reasons AND because it teaches audiences some important lessons about estate planning.

In honor of August’s National Make a Will Month, we encouraged you to watch Knives Out with us this week. Now, let’s break down the estate planning storyline in it.

If you have not yet watched it, consider this a spoiler alert warning!

Here are the most important things Knives Out spotlights about estate planning:

1. The importance of updating your Will

The movie’s plot revolves around the mysterious death of the patriarch of the very wealthy Thrombey family. Harlan Thrombey, AKA Christopher Plummer, had updated his Will and made some dramatic changes just before his death — he made Marta, his caretaker, the sole beneficiary of his Will.

While this change caused absolute chaos among the family, Harlan did it for a reason. He didn’t want his estate and assets to end up in the wrong hands. It’s important to update your Will any time you decide you need to re-assign who ends up getting what.

2. Reading of the Will

It’s safe to say one of the most intense scenes in the movie was the scene where the Thrombey family gathers to hear the reading of the Will. In a nutshell, the decisions Harlan made in the Will were not what the family had expected or wanted. Cue the unraveling of the drama!   

What’s important to know here, however, is that in real life, it is not custom for Wills to be read aloud like this. This is a common misconception and one that makes Will scenarios in movies much more dramatic, but it doesn’t normally happen in the real world.

3. Contesting a Will

When the Thrombey family learns who the sole beneficiary is in the Will (Hint: Not any of them), they immediately conspire to contest the Will, or formally reject it.

Contesting Wills has become more and more popular over the years, and it happens when family members are disappointed or feel they were wrongly excluded from the Will. To contest a Will, you need the help of a probate lawyer to challenge the Will in probate court.

However, most of the time, contentions are expensive to do and unsuccessful to win. You need to have a legitimate legal reason to contest a Will, not simply because you feel like you should have received more of the assets (like the family members did in Knives Out).

Legitimate reasons would be if the testator (the person who wrote the Will, in this case Harlan Thrombey) was not mentally competent, was maliciously persuaded (a term called undue influence), had broken the law when writing the Will, or if a more recent version of the Will exists.

In Knives Out, the family members wanted to contest the Will by attempting to prove Harlan was under undue influence.

4. Undue influence

Undue influence would be a valid reason that a protest, or contest of a Will would be granted. Essentially it means the testator (Harlan) was vulnerable and maliciously persuaded or forced to change his Will. In the movie, the family members immediately point fingers at Marta, believing she forced Harlan to give her everything he owned.

Undue influence is one of the biggest reasons a contest to a Will would be granted, as it can happen more often that you would think.

Since Marta did not persuade Harlan to change his Will in any way and the family members can’t prove it, they resort to claiming “slayer statute”.

5. Slayer Statute

Next, the Thrombey family attempts to pin slayer statute on Marta. This scenario means that, if the beneficiary (Marta) intentionally killed the testator (Harlan), it would prevent them from inheriting anything.

Ultimately though, the truth unravels of who killed Harlan, and, spoiler alert, it was not Marta. She ended up inheriting everything.

While these scenarios may seem far-fetched in real life cases, they are important to learn and certainly can and do happen. So, get out the popcorn and watch Knives Out this Make a Will Month to learn some fun estate planning facts and enjoy a great film!


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