If you are like me, you are a fan of "Downton Abbey." Season 4 (finally) started last Sunday. While I love the dry British humor, the clothing and the drama or it all, the attorney in me couldn't be quieted. There are four lessons that we should all learn from the show.
- Diversify - This seems common sense. But there would be no show if the head of the Crawley family, the Earl of Grantham, did not invest the bulk of his American wife's fortune in a single Canadian railway. His investment went under and he had to file for bankruptcy.
- Sell the house: The Crawley family plots and schemes to keep control of their castle and sprawling estate. I know the estate is beautiful but those who have owned a house know the amount of work that is required in making one run. This is especially true of older houses. Parents frequently think their adult children have an emotional attachment to a home -- when, in fact, those children often would prefer to sell the property and inherit the cash.
- Use trusts to protect a family fortune: You have to spend your life building your estate, the logical next step is to protect all you have worked for. A trust can help protect against bad management, creditors, and divorce settlements. A properly drafted document can prevent one person from blowing a family fortune. In the case of Downton, a professional trustee, for instance, likely would have been able to prevent the earl from plowing most of his family’s funds into a single, dubious venture.
- Set up a medical directive: I have said it a million times to anyone who would listen. Everyone needs a medical directive (and a living will). This could never be more true than for the characters of "Downton Abbey" who have a very high mortality rate.
A medical directive provides written instructions that specify what actions should be taken if you no longer are able to make medical decisions. It's also prudent to have a health-care proxy, which appoints someone to make such decisions. In short, the more people who know about your wishes, the better.