First, let us all take a moment to reflect on the fact Mr. Deeds came out 16 years ago, and it is arguably the last good Adam Sandler movie from Happy Madison Productions. Now that everyone is feeling old and struggling to think of a good Adam Sandler movie that is not Happy Gilmore, Billy Madison, or The Waterboy, let us move on.
SPOILER ALERT: IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN “MR. DEEDS”, PLEASE WATCH IT AND THEN COME BACK.
Just as a recap of the plot of Mr. Deeds: Preston Blake freezes to death while on a mountain climbing expedition. Preston also happened to own Blake Media, a multibillion-dollar empire, at the time of his death. What ensued next was finding Preston’s heirs, as he died single with no legitimate children (foreshadowing).
As it turned out, Preston had a grand-nephew named Longfellow Deeds (“Deeds”) whom Preston had never met. Deeds, as the story goes, was set to inherit a multibillion-dollar company. Then came along the nosy but good-intentioned reporter Babe Bennett, who accidentally discovers Emilio Lopez, the butler to the late Preston Blake, is the illegitimate son of Preston Blake and the rightful owner of the multibillion-dollar empire. Now that we are all on the same page, we can move on after we address this one glaring hole in the storyline for lawyer purposes:
Where in the heck is the probate? Billions of dollars change hands several times in this movie. Deeds, Emilio Lopez, and the United Negro College Fund all have ownership of Preston Blake’s billions of dollars in this movie without any interaction from a court whatsoever.
If Preston Blake were living in North Dakota or Minnesota, what could he have done differently? He should have gotten an estate plan. Whether you are a billionaire or just starting your career, you owe it to yourself and your family to draft a comprehensive estate plan. Also, whether you are a mountain climbing expeditionist or a diehard dungeon master, unforeseen circumstances occur every day. Be prepared. Get an estate plan. Specifically, however, what could Mr. Blake have done with an estate plan?
First, he could have, at a minimum, created a will. With a will, Preston could have determined which person or persons would inherit his multibillion-dollar company. Do you think Preston Blake actually wished his fortune to go to a man he had never met (Deeds)? Of course not. However, this can be what happens when you do not have a will; you no longer have a say in who receives your property. Instead, the recipient will be decided by your home state’s intestate succession rules, which might result in your estate descending to your grand nephew, illegitimate son, or some other long-lost relative you never knew you had. Get a will. Tell your home state where your assets are going upon your death, not the other way around.
Second, with a multibillion-dollar company, Preston Blake should have also had a good business law attorney draft documents determining the ownership and operation of the company upon his death. After all, there must have been some issues popping up when the leader of the company died and the pizza delivery guy comes in and starts punching quarterbacks. Preston Blake should have put the correct business measures in place to ensure the business would run smoothly in his absence.
Third, Preston Blake could most certainly have benefitted from estate tax planning. If you are new to estate tax planning: the federal government and Minnesota (sorry) essentially tax people for dying if they are too wealthy. The federal exemption limit for a single person is $11,200,000.00. The Minnesota exemption limit is currently at $2,400,000. This means the value of any assets (with some exceptions) owned by Preston Blake exceeding the limits set by federal and Minnesota law (if he lived in Minnesota or owned property there) would be taxed by the federal and/or Minnesota government. Now, this blog is not an in-depth look at estate tax planning, but the point is Preston Blake left money on the table when he did not obtain an estate plan.
Preston Blake was clearly an excellent business person. Like many, however, he did not have a plan in place for when he died. Don’t be like Preston in this regard. Talk to an attorney about how to ensure you, your family, and your loved ones will all have peace of mind as to what will happen upon your death.
If you have questions regarding the topic of this article, or with estate planning, probates, or guardianships, please call the Estate Planning Team at 701-297-2890 or email us below.
The information contained in this article and on this website is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact an attorney to obtain advice with respect to your particular set of circumstances.