I finally watched Manchester by the Sea last night. I will spare you my poor attempt to play Roger Ebert. It is not exactly uplifting but it is definitely worth watching and I thought it was very well done. Casey Affleck (playing Lee Chander) in particular was very good. So was Kyle Chandler (Coach Taylor for you Friday Night Lights fans, playing Joe Chandler). The movie does provide some good estate planning lessons for parents. Here are some of my thoughts:

  • Tip 1: Parents with minor children must, at a minimum, have a will that nominates a guardian to care for their kids. In Manchester by the Sea, Joe Chandler had a 16 year-old son, Patrick. After Joe died, Lee was nominated to care for Patrick. If you do not identify who you want to take care of your children, the courts may decide for you.
  • Tip 2: Talk to and get the consent of the person you intend to select to serve as the guardian. Lee Chandler was shocked to learn that Joe had named him as the guardian for his son. It is generally much better to avoid blind-siding a relative or close friend in what will already be an emotional time.
  • Tip 3: Tailor your estate plan to meet your needs. In the movie, Joe ensured that certain things were in place to both care for his son (such as money for Patrick’s daily expenses, providing that Patrick would inherit the house and a boat when he turned 18) and for Lee ($5,000 for moving expenses, etc.). Parents often prefer to delay distributions of larger assets until the kids are older and some choose to stagger distributions at different ages. There is no one-size fits all plan. These are truly decisions that must be made on a case-by-case basis, depending on the needs of each individual family. If your family has special or unique dynamics, take the time to establish a plan that is right for you.
  • Tip 4: Everyone needs a plan. An estate plan is not just for the very wealthy or senior citizens. Proper planning provides peace of mind no matter the extent of your assets. Some people and families may need more complex plans than others, but everyone should have something in place. In the movie, Joe was not rich. But he realized the need to plan to take care of Patrick and he implemented the documents to do so. Regardless of your circumstances, it is better to take control and dictate how you want your assets distributed rather than allow someone else to make the decisions for you.