Could simple estate planning have prevented war as we know it? Yes, I sometimes think weird things while sitting in Temple for the Jewish High Holy Day of Rosh Hashanah. The curse of being a lawyer, I guess, viewing things with an eye towards resolving conflict or preventing them from even beginning.
Consider these facts: A man and a woman have a relationship for many years and from that relationship they produce a son. After 15 years in this relationship, the man begins a relationship with and subsequently marries another woman and has a son with her. Man loves both his sons equally, however his wife only has eyes for her son and doesn’t want her son to have to share his inheritance with the son from the previous relationship.
Do you see the dilemma? First and foremost, the man does not want the courts to sort through all of this. The probate court is a court of equity, so it will seek out the most equitable, the “fairest”, method to divide the estate. That might not be the best result.
What to do, what to do? Well, an estate plan is a must. The only way to control “from the grave,” so to speak, is to have a comprehensive plan in place. How that plan will look, however, depends on many factors, and it may even require the husband and wife to have separate plans. But it absolutely has to be written down in the proper form for it to be effective.
Think my fact pattern is a far-out prospect? This is the 21st century. The family unit is being torn asunder with more frequency and it is not uncommon for people to marry twice, three times, four times, or even eight times (Elizabeth Taylor!). Couple that with the fact that people are living longer and are having kids later in life, the fact-pattern above is becoming more common.
Back to my initial fact pattern. Check out the book of Genesis, Chapter 21, verses 9 and 10. Well, I will save you the trouble and set it out for you. You may not have the facts right at your fingertips, so here is a refresher: Abraham was an old man and had a son with Sarah’s maidservant, Hagar. The son’s name was Ishmael. About 15 years later, Sarah was blessed with a son, Isaac. You are caught up, so here is the verse I cited above:
“Sarah saw the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham playing. She said to Abraham, ‘Cast out that slave-woman and her son, for the son of that slave shall not share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.'”
Well, I guess that is one way to deal with the situation; the current wife expels the first child and banishes him. Or, Abraham could have simply gone to the local attorney and had an estate plan prepared. It is said that Ishmael was the father of the Arab people, so can you imagine the thousands of years of fighting and strife that could have been avoided had Abraham simply drawn up a will and a trust?
Sounds like every day of my life, arguing in court the division of assets of estates amongst the beneficiaries. A good estate plan goes a long way.
And you thought this was all a new development, these second family situations…
“Standing over them, with a toasting-fork in his hand, was a very shrivelled Jew, whose villainous-looking and repulsive face was obscured by a quantity of matted red hair.”
I mentioned before that now that I don’t have to read classics for school, I sometimes delve into them for my own growth. I truly believe that the “classics” are better when you aren’t being forced to read them, and it couldn’t be more true with “Oliver Twist.”
We all know the story, whether it be from having the book forced down our throats in high school or from the musical which we sat through at least on one occasion. But reading it now, as an adult, I am taken with some of the characterizations and it made me think: Could Charles Dickens even write “Oliver Twist” in today’s society and, if he did, would it be as celebrated as it was in the 19th century?
One of the most indelible images from literature which ranks up amongst the most memorable of characters, is that of the character of Fagin. The hooked nose, the shrivelled skin, the matter hair, the wicked sneer. Of course, now we look back and think of the characterization as comedic and satirical, but back then, Dickens was a social satirist utilizing his literature as a way to criticize and attack English society. Come on, we all learned that Dickens’ father was in a debtor’s prison and so much of his novels were aimed at disparaging English society and its actors. So I am not so sure that Fagin was an exaggeration, but may actually be how Dickens perceived Jews.
Take another example: The character of Shylock in Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice.” This characterization of the moneylender has so resonated for centuries that the term “Shylock” is still used to describe and demean a Jew.
(Please do not take this as me focusing only on the anti-Semitic portrayals; I simply do not know my Shakespeare well enough to examine other portrayals. Although I am fairly certain that Othello was a moor, not a moop.)
Could either of these pieces of literature (for it is indisputable that these pieces are amongst the greatest works ever written) be written in the 21st century, with our society of political correctness?
Look– I am not a Shakespearean scholar nor am I a Dickensian pundit. All I know is that society has changed and satirical characterizations of ethinc groups is simply taboo these days.
Consider this: Just 2 decades ago Michael Crichton wrote a book called “Rising Sun” which examined Japanese and American relations, centering around the murder of an American woman in a Japanese corporation’s board room. You might remember the movie with Sean Connery and Wesley Snipes. An interesting piece of trivia of which you may not be aware. The villain in the novel was a Japanese man; in the movie, the villain was changed to an American man, simply because of concern for the negative portrayal of the Japanese man.
I am not using these illustrations to claim that literature today is suffering because it is politically incorrect to satirize ethnic groups. I am simply questioning whether these pieces of literature (and I am sure countless others) are viewed with rose-colored glasses because of their ability to stand the test of time and do we have a responsibility to criticize them for their anti-Semitic, or racist, or xenophobic features?
One last example– one of the greatest movies of all-time, “Gone With The Wind.” I confess, I have never seen the movie, but I do recall that one of the characters, Mammy, appears to be a fairly over the top portrayal of an African-American house servant. “Gone With The Wind” was a celebrated novel first. Could you write “Gone With The Wind” today?
All I know is, you couldn’t make “Blazing Saddles” today, could you? Can you imagine the uproar? Who will argue that “Blazing Saddles” is not a classic?
“Excuse me while I whip this out.”
Have a great week.