The legions of fans who devotedly watch the British drama “Downton Abbey” on PBS have become engrossed in the lives of the ensemble cast of the aristocratic family portrayed in the show. If you’ve not yet been initiated in the drama, let us bring you up to date. Downton Abbey follows the lives of the Crawley family and its ancestral home, the eponymous Downton Abbey. Following the death of the family heir on the Titanic, the show follows the lives of the family members as they navigate through the complicated ramifications of who will inherit the family fortune under the arcane laws of the day.
But what does Downton Abbey have to tell us about modern estate planning? For one thing, the intestacy laws that applied in England during the reign of King George V are, thankfully, not the same as modern American laws. Yet, in some aspects, the drama surrounding the Crawley family as it determines who will inherit the title and rights to the family estate share some common ground with modern estate planning.
If you, or your parents, should die without leaving behind a will or other estate planning device, how will your property pass on to your family? Though you don’t have to worry about passing on any of your titles, you should know that if you have taken no legally recognized estate planning steps, your estate will pass in accordance to laws that already choose for you. In New York, these intestacy laws are already in place and apply whether you want them to or not. The only way to avoid them is to create an estate plan of your own.