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Two boys talking from the Brady Bunch

These 3 classic TV sitcoms and their family dynamics provide key estate planning lessons

by Legacy Plan
June 5, 2023

People who are at retirement age or approaching that milestone might fondly remember those classic sitcoms of the late 1960s, early ‘70s and beyond that were based on unconventional family situations and the challenges they presented their casts of characters.

Those of a certain age grew up watching shows like “My Three Sons,” “The Brady Bunch” and “Family Affair” back when you could count the number of available broadcast channels with your fingers and cable TV was still in its infancy. Streaming and the internet, where the shows still appear today as reruns, remained decades away.

Despite having different storylines, those three nostalgic shows provide several common themes regarding proper estate planning. For example, when families include children under the age of 18, the importance of having a will that names guardians for them is of critical importance. Blended families like those in “The Brady Bunch” and “Family Affair” offer prime examples of issues created by second and subsequent marriages and why the use of a trust may be needed to safeguard the interests of each spouse’s children from previous relationships.

The sitcoms also demonstrate the importance of family communication to address unpredictable events, and they underscore the importance of creating, updating and maintaining a comprehensive estate plan to ensure your loved ones are protected and your wishes are honored.

We’ll take a closer look at each series and the lessons that can be learned, but here are some of the key takeaways:

  • Have a will. A will is a legal document that outlines your wishes for your assets after your death. It is important to have a will, even if you do not have a lot of assets. A will can help to ensure that your assets are distributed according to your wishes, and it can help to avoid family disputes.
  • Consider setting up a trust. A trust is a legal entity that can be used to hold assets for the benefit of another person. Trusts can be used for a variety of purposes, including estate planning. For example, a trust can be used to protect assets from creditors or to provide for a child with special needs.
  • Make sure your beneficiaries are aware of your wishes. Even if you have a will, it is important to make sure that your beneficiaries are aware of your wishes. This can help to avoid confusion and conflict after your death.
  • The importance of timely planning and talking to an experienced estate planning attorney. An estate planning attorney can help you to create a plan that meets your specific needs when life’s circumstances suddenly change. An attorney can also help you to make sure that your plan is valid and enforceable.

Estate planning lessons from “My Three Sons”

TV show MY Three Sons family photo

"My Three Sons," which aired from 1960 to 1972, provides an insightful lens through which to explore various family dynamics and the accompanying estate planning issues. The show, centered around widower Steven Douglas and his three sons Mike, Robbie and Chip, navigates through a labyrinth of family structures and situations, including adoption, marriage, remarriage and the death of a spouse.

The series begins with Steven Douglas, an aeronautical engineer, raising his three sons after the death of his wife. This initial scenario emphasizes the importance of estate planning for both parents, regardless of their health or age. If the late Mrs. Douglas had a comprehensive estate plan in place, it would have provided a clear roadmap for the distribution of her assets and potentially spared her family additional grief.

The eldest son, Mike, later leaves the series, and Steven adopts Ernie, maintaining the titular "three sons." Adoption, as showcased here, is another significant event that necessitates a review and update of existing estate plans. Adopted children have the same rights as biological children in terms of inheritance. In Steven's case, updating his estate plan to include Ernie would ensure fair treatment of all his sons.

Later in the series, Steven remarries, bringing his new wife, Barbara, and her daughter, Dodie, into the family. This change underscores the importance of updating estate plans during major life events like remarriage. Steven would need to ensure that his new wife and stepdaughter are included in his estate plan. It's also vital to consider potential future changes; for instance, what would happen if Steven predeceased Barbara? Would his biological and adopted sons' inheritances be protected, or could they possibly be unintentionally disinherited?

Additionally, the series illustrates the reality of children growing up and starting families of their own, as Robbie and Chip do. When children marry, it can impact an estate plan, particularly if there are concerns about in-law relationships or potential divorces. Establishing trusts can ensure assets remain within the intended lineage.

Furthermore, when Steven's sons become adults and start families, it might be an opportune time for them to begin their own estate planning. This process would involve creating a will, naming guardians for minor children, establishing trusts if necessary, and designating powers of attorney for health care and finances.

Throughout its run, "My Three Sons" provides viewers with a charming portrayal of a non-traditional family handling life's ups and downs. It serves as a gentle reminder that as family structures shift and change, so too should estate plans.

Just as Steven Douglas navigated the changing dynamics of his family, so too must individuals navigate their evolving estate planning needs. To ensure all "sons" and daughters — whether biological, adopted or stepchildren — are accounted for and treated equitably, an estate plan must adapt and grow in tandem with the family it serves. It's advisable to seek the counsel of an experienced estate planning attorney to guide you through this process.

 Estate planning lessons from “Family Affair”

TV show Family Affair family photo

"Family Affair," which aired from 1966 to 1971, provides a fascinating perspective on the complexities of family structures and the corresponding estate planning challenges. The show's narrative centers on Bill Davis, a successful bachelor engineer, whose comfortable New York City lifestyle is unexpectedly disrupted when his brother and sister-in-law die in a tragic accident, making him the guardian of their three young children: Cissy, and twins Jody and Buffy.

The suddenness of the event that makes Bill a single parent emphasizes the first critical lesson in estate planning: the importance of timely planning. Even young parents, like the children's deceased biological parents, should have a comprehensive estate plan, which includes naming guardians for their children in case of their untimely death. Without a designated guardian, the court steps in to make this decision, which may not align with the parents' wishes.

In "Family Affair," Bill takes in the children and raises them with the help of his gentleman's gentleman, Giles French. The fact that Bill, a bachelor with no prior parenting experience, becomes the guardian for his brother's children underscores the need for open and honest discussions about guardianship preferences. In this context, it's essential to ensure the potential guardian is willing and able to take on this significant responsibility.

Over the course of the show, Bill Davis becomes the de facto parent to the children. This shift from uncle to father figure raises significant estate planning considerations. As the children's primary caregiver, it would be prudent for Bill to adjust his estate plan to ensure the financial well-being of the children, should anything happen to him. This step could involve creating a trust for each child, appointing a trustee and securing life insurance policies with the trust as the beneficiary.

Another interesting aspect of the show is that the children's maternal grandfather occasionally appears and attempts to gain custody. This situation highlights the potential for familial disputes over guardianship and the distribution of assets. Proper estate planning can provide clarity, reducing the likelihood of such conflicts.

As the children grow older and navigate their lives, additional estate planning revisions may be necessary. For instance, Cissy, the oldest child, might go to college, start working or get married, which would necessitate further updates to the estate plan to reflect her changing financial needs and independence.

"Family Affair" elegantly portrays a man who adapts to a new role as a parent while maintaining a profound sense of duty toward his family. It also serves as a compelling reminder of the importance of comprehensive estate planning that reflects the evolving needs of a dynamic family structure.

Just as Bill Davis adapted his life to cater to his new family's needs, individuals must similarly adapt their estate planning strategies to align with the realities of their family's changing landscape. It is advisable to seek professional legal advice to navigate the intricacies of estate planning, ensuring that your family members are protected and your wishes are fulfilled.

Estate planning lessons from "The Brady Bunch”

"The Brady Bunch," which aired from 1969 to 1974 and years later was portrayed in a Hollywood movie, provides a colorful and poignant canvas to explore estate planning issues, particularly those pertinent to blended families. The series revolves around Mike Brady, a widowed architect, who marries Carol, whose marital status was ambiguously portrayed. They merge their families, with Mike's three boys and Carol's three girls under one roof, which creates a unique dynamic rife with estate planning considerations.

At the heart of "The Brady Bunch" is a blend of two families, a scenario that underscores the critical importance of updating estate planning documents after major life changes, such as remarriage. When Mike and Carol Brady marry, they create a blended family. It is crucial to consider how assets will be distributed to protect the interests of children from previous marriages. Both Mike and Carol need to review and possibly revise their wills and other estate planning documents to ensure that their assets will be allocated as they intend upon their deaths.

Another crucial aspect of estate planning in a blended family is the appointment of executors, trustees, or guardians. For instance, would Mike and Carol wish for each other to act in these capacities for all of their children? Or would they prefer to involve other family members or third-party professionals to ensure fair treatment of all the children? Clear communication about these decisions can help avoid potential conflicts after their deaths.

In "The Brady Bunch," Mike Brady is depicted as the family's primary breadwinner, raising the issue of financial provision for the family should he become unable to work or pass away unexpectedly. This scenario underscores the importance of life insurance as part of a comprehensive estate plan, particularly in a family dependent on a single income source.

The Brady family also owns a house, which brings to the fore considerations about the family home in estate planning. What would happen to the house if Mike or Carol were to pass away? Would it be left to the surviving spouse, or divided among the children? This issue becomes even more complicated in blended families, where ensuring fairness between biological and stepchildren can be a sensitive issue.

Finally, the series highlights the importance of considering personal belongings in an estate plan. In one memorable episode, a family argument ensues over who gets to use the coveted family telephone. This situation can serve as a lighthearted reminder that even items of sentimental value should be considered in estate planning to prevent potential disagreements among heirs.

"The Brady Bunch," in all its wholesome, mid-century glory, illustrates how changing family structures necessitate careful, thoughtful estate planning. As Mike and Carol navigate their new shared life, their experiences serve as a reminder of the importance of updating estate plans to reflect the evolving dynamics of a blended family. To ensure all family members are treated fairly and to avoid future conflicts, professional advice should be sought from a knowledgeable estate planning attorney.

Conclusion

These are just a few examples of the lessons that classic sitcoms can teach us about estate planning. It is important to remember that estate planning is not just about money. It is also about ensuring that your loved ones are taken care of after you are gone. Remember, every family is different, and the estate planning needs of each family will vary. It is important to speak with an estate planning attorney to create a plan that meets the specific needs of your family.

How do I create an estate plan?

There are numerous options and scenarios to consider when developing an estate plan that protects your legacy and achieves your objectives, and important decisions should be made with the advice of qualified lawyers and financial experts. Membership with Legacy Assurance Plan provides members with valuable resources and guidance to develop comprehensive estate plans that take life's contingencies into consideration and leave a positive impact for generations to come. Legacy Assurance Plan members also receive peace of mind that a team of trusted, experienced professionals will assist them in developing legal, financial and tax strategies that will meet their needs today and for years to come through periodic reviews.

This article is published by Legacy Assurance Plan and is intended for general informational purposes only. Some information may not apply to your situation. It does not, nor is it intended, to constitute legal advice. You should consult with an attorney regarding any specific questions about probate, living probate or other estate planning matters. Legacy Assurance Plan is an estate planning services company and is not a lawyer or law firm and is not engaged in the practice of law. For more information about this and other estate planning matters visit our website at legacyassuranceplan.com.

Phone - 844.445.3422
Email - info@legacyassuranceplan.com
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