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What Mad Men Can Teach Us About Estate Planning

Anyone who knows me is aware of my love for Mad Men, the critically-acclaimed AMC drama which concluded its run in May. Like most fans of the show, I was sad to see it end. Apart from its entertainment value, Mad Men tackled serious subjects such as identity, race relations and sexism. Reflecting on the final episodes, it is also clear that we can learn much from the show’s iconic lead, Don Draper, and the other cast of characters. In that spirit, here’s what Mad Men can teach us about estate planning.

  1. A Durable Power of Attorney is important. Mad Men’s final season saw the advertising agency Don and his longtime colleagues had worked so hard to build absorbed by the much larger firm of McCann Erickson. Combined with the turmoil in his personal life, this prompted Draper to set out on a cross country road trip that took him from Manhattan to Alva, Oklahoma and eventually to California, where he would find the inspiration to create Coke’s famous “Hilltop” commercial. In typical fashion, Don told no one (except for daughter Sally) where he was or what he was doing. That may have created the space Don needed to finally come to terms with himself as a person, but going missing can leave one’s financial obligations neglected and make things difficult on loved ones who lack the legal authority to deal with your property and money. Believe it or not, a well-drafted Durable Power of Attorney can account for a sudden disappearance by allowing an Attorney in Fact to step in and manage your affairs in your absence.
  2. As your life changes, so should your estate plan. If one thing other than being an advertising genius defined Don Draper, it was his love for the ladies. Over the course of seven seasons, Don had numerous flings, one-night stands and affairs. Now, it’s a bad idea to cheat on your spouse or lie to your family about your past. However, the fact is that many marriages do end in divorce. In the event you find yourself in this unfortunate situation, you should definitely update your estate plan. Under the laws of Oklahoma and most other states, gifts to your former spouse in a will or trust are automatically revoked. Nevertheless, this does not affect beneficiary designations on IRAs, 401(k)s and other retirement accounts — which comprise a major portion of most people’s net worth. Furthermore, much of the estate and income tax planning done in the will or trust of a married person hinges on their marital status. Therefore, after a divorce, it makes sense to explore other ways of reducing the future tax burden to your heirs. Notwithstanding the possibility of divorce, it is prudent to reevaluate your estate plan as you age and your values change over time. In “Person to Person”, the series finale of Mad Men, we see Roger Sterling change his will to benefit the son he had with longtime lover Joan…which brings us to our next lesson.
  3. Never leave property to a minor outright. If you have provided for your children or grandchildren and they are still minors at the time of your death, property left to them outright in your estate plan will require a guardian to be appointed. Obtaining a court-ordered guardianship can be an expensive and time-consuming process. Therefore, the better practice is to set up a trust for the minor or name a custodian to hold the property on their behalf pursuant to the Oklahoma Uniform Transfers to Minors Act.