OSCAR NOMINATED FILM HIGHLIGHTS ISSUES FOR GUARDIANS AND TRUSTEES
The movie “Manchester By the Sea” recently garnered an Oscar award for Casey Affleck, who won “Best Actor”. In the movie, he plays a man dealing with the loss of his older brother who soon discovers he is the backup guardian and trustee for his nephew. The guardianship in the issue mainly plays in the background but it highlights what I consider to be a common issue for people who’ve lost a loved one and are suddenly thrust into the role of taking care of legal affairs for the deceased.
The struggles of Affleck in the movie are familiar ones for people who’ve been in that position. His character is shocked to be in charge, never actually expecting to serve as guardian and trustee. He struggles immediately to straddle the line between the unfamiliar role of assertive father to his nephew while also trying to find middle ground between the needs of the nephew and his own life. In particular, Affleck struggles with the prospect of relocating his life back to a place that he left for good reason, all in service of his brother’s wishes.
He struggles with the emotional details of arranging the funeral of his departed brother, including having to delay the burial because it’s the middle of winter. He has to delay his own grieving process to assist the nephew with his.
It’s actually these struggles that make the movie so moving and well done.
I rarely find myself impressed with how Hollywood portrays legal issues on screen. From the imaginary fiction that the death of every person require a dramatic reading of their will at a cramped law office to the ridiculously dingy and dim lighting of New York city courts in “Law and Order”, Hollywood mostly fails to find a middle ground between reality and fantasy in its portrayal of legal matters.
This movie is different in that respect. It captures the essence of the pain of dealing with death, from the obvious standpoint of emotion but also with the pesky details that have to be covered when it happens.
In my own practice, the reality of how my clients choose people to be in charge of their estate plan often takes quite a bit of time with clients. Part of that reality is a suggestion from me that my clients actually talk to the people that they name as guardians, powers of attorney, trustees and executors. Seems like common sense but it’s surprising that often people don’t discuss these matters.
Is that a role the chosen person will actually fill if necessary? Do they have a life now that would allow for time to be effective if they were suddenly the legal guardians of your children? Are they being chosen just because they’re a relative and nearby? Are they too old already to serve if the time to serve was a decade away? Do your children have a close relationship with the person you chose or is it just you that is close to that person?
I will give away one secret about the movie: Casey is a better actor than his brother.