Book a consultation
Send us a message
4 people from seperate pictures in a collage

These 4 movies explore inheritance conflicts, provide real-life estate planning lessons

by Legacy Plan
January 4, 2024

Cinematic tales of dysfunctional families feuding over assets have long captivated audiences while underscoring key estate planning takeaways. From greed and entitlement born of unclear expectations to simple failures to communicate, the scenarios play out timeless human drama – with inheritance disputes as the catalyst. Four particular films made over the past two decades – “The Ultimate Gift,” "Knives Out,” “The Descendants” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” – showcase estate planning wisdom through engaging but exaggerated stories. Let’s explore each of these films and the estate planning themes they touch upon.

“The Ultimate Gift”: Unwrapping life's lessons through estate planning

The 2006 film "The Ultimate Gift" offers more than just a heartwarming story; it weaves in valuable lessons about estate planning, personal growth and appreciating life's true treasures. Through the journey of Jason Stevens, a spoiled and self-centered young man, the film explores the transformative power of inheritance when used wisely.

This film showcases the resentment that can build when irresponsible heirs feel unduly constrained by benefactors using stipulations to reform behavior. Estate plans balancing values and transparency ease tensions.

From materialism to meaning

The film's central theme revolves around the unique inheritance left by Jason's wealthy grandfather. Instead of immediate financial gain, Jason is presented with a series of life-changing tasks designed to teach him the value of hard work, empathy and meaningful relationships. This approach challenges the traditional notion of inheritance as purely material and instead emphasizes the importance of personal growth and the acquisition of life-enriching experiences.

The power of intention

Through each task, Jason, the beneficiary of his grandfather’s trust, discovers the importance of living a life with purpose and intention. He learns the value of contributing to the community, building genuine connections and overcoming personal challenges. This emphasis on intentionality encourages viewers to examine their own lives and consider what truly matters to them, prompting them to craft their own "ultimate gift" for future generations.

Lessons for real-life estate planning

manager speaking to concierge

While "The Ultimate Gift" employs a fictionalized approach, several key takeaways are relevant to real-life estate planning:

  1. Consider alternatives to cash: Instead of simply leaving money, consider incorporating experiences, challenges or philanthropic acts into your estate plan. This can encourage personal growth and leave a lasting legacy that goes beyond material wealth.

  2. Foster open communication: Have open conversations with your family about your wishes and intentions for your estate. This can help avoid confusion and conflict after your passing.

  3. Prioritize relationships over materialism: Remember that true wealth lies in strong relationships and meaningful experiences. Focus on building a life filled with love, connection and purpose rather than solely on accumulating material possessions.

  4. Seek guidance: Consult with a qualified estate planning attorney to ensure your wishes are documented and legally sound.

  5. Embrace personal growth: View estate planning as an opportunity to reflect on your values and prioritize what truly matters to you. Use this opportunity to create a legacy that reflects your unique journey and inspires future generations.

“The Ultimate Gift" serves as a powerful reminder that estate planning extends far beyond financial matters. It's an opportunity to leave a legacy of love, wisdom and personal growth that can enrich the lives of those around you. By incorporating the film's lessons into your own planning, you can ensure that your legacy extends beyond material wealth and contributes to the happiness and well-being of your loved ones for generations to come.

“Knives Out”: Unmasking estate planning lies and lessons

Rian Johnson's critically acclaimed 2019 film "Knives Out" offers a captivating whodunit with a sharp edge. Beyond the exciting plot twists and intriguing characters, the film subtly delves into the complexities of estate planning, exposing vulnerabilities and highlighting valuable lessons for viewers.

"Knives Out" effectively exposes the potential pitfalls associated with poor estate planning. The Thrombey family, seemingly united by their patriarch's wealth, masks deep-seated resentment and greed. The film also reveals:

  1. The dangers of unclear or outdated wills: Harlan Thrombey's handwritten changes to his will leave room for doubt and manipulation, ultimately creating a breeding ground for conflict and suspicion.

  2. The impact of undue influence: Certain family members attempt to manipulate Harlan, both before and after his death, raising the question of whether their actions influenced his final wishes.

  3. The hidden costs of family feuds: The fight over Harlan's inheritance leads to emotional distress, strained relationships and even legal battles, highlighting the importance of clear communication and transparent estate planning.

While the film paints a cautionary tale, it also offers insightful lessons for viewers that include:

woman standing looking focused with family behind her
  • The importance of clear and up-to-date estate planning. Harlan's reliance on handwritten changes underscores the need for professionally drafted and regularly reviewed wills and other estate planning documents.

  • The value of open communication. Openly discussing estate plans with family members can prevent misunderstandings, reduce conflict and ensure everyone is aware of the deceased's wishes.

  • The benefits of utilizing professional guidance. Seeking the expertise of estate planning attorneys and financial advisors can ensure legal soundness, minimize tax burdens and protect the wishes of the deceased.

  • The significance of considering all beneficiaries. "Knives Out" emphasizes the importance of carefully considering all potential beneficiaries, including those who may not be immediate family members.

"Knives Out" transcends the realm of entertainment by providing a valuable lens through which to examine estate planning. By recognizing the film's lessons and applying them to our own lives, we can create a legacy that extends beyond mere wealth and fosters a future of understanding, respect and shared prosperity.

Also, the film explores the "slayer statute," a legal principle that prevents someone who inherits through wrongful means (such as murder) from benefiting. This serves as a reminder of the ethical considerations that should guide estate planning.

"Knives Out" challenges viewers to consider their own values and priorities when it comes to their own estate planning. What kind of legacy do we want to leave behind? How can we ensure our wealth is used to create positive change and contribute to the well-being of our loved ones?

By engaging with the themes presented in "Knives Out," we can move beyond a purely financial perspective and embrace a more holistic approach to estate planning, one that prioritizes relationships, communication and the creation of a lasting legacy.

“The Descendants”: Navigating loss, land and legacy

Alexander Payne's poignant 2011 film, "The Descendants," paints a moving portrait of grief, family dynamics, and the complexities of inheritance. Set amid the breathtaking landscapes of Hawaii, the film explores the challenges faced by Matt King (played by George Clooney) as he grapples with the unexpected death of his wife and the responsibility of managing his family's ancestral land. Through Matt's journey, the film offers valuable insights into estate planning, particularly regarding land ownership and its impact on families. They include:

  1. Facing loss and uncertainty: Following his wife's coma, Matt is thrust into a whirlwind of grief, family conflict and the daunting task of managing a vast estate. He must decide the fate of the family's 25,000 acres of pristine Hawaiian land, a decision that carries immense emotional, financial and cultural weight. The film highlights the importance of considering the emotional and logistical challenges that can arise after a loved one's death, especially when significant assets are involved.

  2. Land ownership’s legacy, responsibility and conflict: The film delves into the complex relationship between land ownership and family legacy. The King family's land has been passed down through generations, holding deep cultural significance and representing a source of both wealth and responsibility. However, the decision regarding its future stirs up conflict among family members, highlighting the potential challenges of managing inherited land and ensuring it remains a source of unity and long-term benefit for future generations.

Lessons for estate planning

family walking through field together

"The Descendants" offers several valuable lessons for estate planning. These lessons include:

  • Start early. The film emphasizes the importance of planning for the future well in advance. Early discussions with family members about wishes and intentions can prevent conflict and ensure the smooth transition of assets.

  • Consider all beneficiaries. Matt grapples with the competing interests of different family members, highlighting the need to carefully consider the needs and desires of all potential beneficiaries when making decisions about land ownership and inheritance.

  • Seek professional guidance. Navigating complex legal and financial issues often requires the expertise of legal professionals and financial advisors. Consulting with these professionals can help ensure clarity, minimize taxes and avoid unnecessary conflict.

  • Open communication and transparency. Open communication within the family is crucial to avoiding misunderstandings and fostering a sense of trust and responsibility among beneficiaries. Talking openly about wishes and concerns can pave the way for a harmonious transition of assets and preserve family unity.

  • Consider cultural and emotional implications. Land ownership often carries deep cultural and emotional significance, as seen in the film. Estate planning should consider these factors alongside financial and legal considerations to ensure the land's future aligns with the family's values and cultural traditions.

Beyond the material

"The Descendants" reminds us that estate planning is about more than just dividing assets. It's an opportunity to create a lasting legacy, foster family unity and ensure the well-being of future generations. By incorporating the film's lessons, individuals can prepare for the future with clarity and compassion, ensuring their legacy extends beyond the material and contributes to the long-term happiness and prosperity of their loved ones.

“The Grand Budapest Hotel”: Unwrapping lessons in legacy and inheritance

Wes Anderson's whimsical and visually stunning 2014 film, "The Grand Budapest Hotel," offers more than just a delightful cinematic experience. Beneath its carefully crafted aesthetic lies a captivating narrative that delves into themes of legacy, inheritance and the enduring power of human connection. Through the story of M. Gustave, the concierge of the renowned Grand Budapest Hotel, and his loyal lobby boy, Zero Moustafa, the film subtly explores the nuances of inheritance and offers valuable lessons for viewers navigating their own estate planning journey.

A legacy of service and loyalty

M. Gustave embodies the values of service, loyalty and unwavering dedication to his guests. He exemplifies the philosophy of personal connection and genuine care that transcends the transactional nature of hospitality. His legacy is not defined solely by material possessions, but by the positive impact he leaves on the lives of those around him. This serves as a reminder that the most valuable legacies are often built through the relationships we forge and the positive influence we exert on others.

The complexities of inheritance

The film centers around a contested will and the battle for ownership of Madame D.'s priceless painting, "Boy with Apple." This subplot sheds light on the potential pitfalls of unclear or ambiguous estate planning. While the film explores the comedic aspects of the situation, it reminds viewers of the importance of clear and concise legal documents to ensure the smooth and conflict-free transfer of assets.

From material wealth to personal growth

While the film acknowledges the significance of material inheritance, it ultimately emphasizes the importance of personal growth and self-discovery. Zero Moustafa, through his association with M. Gustave and his exposure to the world of hospitality, undergoes a remarkable transformation. He learns the value of hard work, compassion and resilience, ultimately inheriting not just material possessions, but also a philosophy of life and a set of values that guide him on his own journey.

Estate planning lessons for real life

"The Grand Budapest Hotel" offers several relevant takeaways for estate planning in real life:

  • Clarity is key. Ensure your will is clear, concise and legally sound to avoid confusion and conflict among beneficiaries.

  • Communication is essential. Open and honest communication with family members about your wishes and intentions can help prevent misunderstandings and foster a sense of trust and preparedness.

  • Consideration beyond material possessions. While material inheritance is important, consider incorporating experiences, values and life lessons into your legacy to inspire future generations.

  • Seek professional guidance. Consulting with legal and financial professionals can ensure your estate plan is tailored to your specific needs and minimizes tax burdens.

  • Value relationships. Remember that the most valuable inheritance is often not material, but the love, support and positive influence we share with those around us.

"The Grand Budapest Hotel" provides a unique lens through which to examine estate planning. It reminds us that the process is not just about dividing assets, but about creating a legacy that reflects our values, promotes personal growth, and fosters enduring connections among loved ones. By incorporating the film's lessons, individuals can approach their estate planning with greater awareness and intention, ensuring their legacy extends beyond the material and contributes to a brighter future for their families and communities.


As the four films illustrate through engaging stories, questionable inheritance decisions make for emotionally charged drama. But conscious estate planning provides an uplifting alternative storyline. Open discussion of values, inclusion of all parties, ethical professional guidance when disputes arise and proactive communication breed goodwill far more assuredly than dollar amounts ever could.

Beyond finances, legacy building requires personal growth, compassion and family unity. No Hollywood plotline adequately substitutes for personalized awareness as loved ones navigate complex psychological dynamics wealth transfer often ignites. Useful principles emerge from examining fictional inheritance troubles thoughtfully. The timeless lessons center on prioritizing peace through estate planning processes that speak to shared hopes instead of inflamed harangues over assets.

No movie storyline substitutes for personalized awareness when families navigate the psychological complexities wealth transfer can ignite. But useful principles emerge from engaging thoughtfully with inheritance issues playing out on screen, however dramatized. As the credits will eventually roll for us all, what finale do we hope to leave for loved ones? Beyond material inheritance, the ultimate gift is clarity, care and understanding etched into the closing scenes of our estates’ next chapters.

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

Phone - 844.445.3422
Email -
25 common estate planning mistakes booklet

Don't make estate planning mistakes. Avoid common mistakes with our free guide,
"25 Common Estate Planning Mistakes"

Legacy Assurance Plan Shield Logo
Subscribe to Our Monthly Newsletter!

We won't share your email, and we make it easy to unsubscribe!