By Melinda Gustafson Gervasi
From Hollywood to Netflix to TV dramas, legal thrillers remain a popular film genre. Recently I enjoyed watching The Grand Budapest Hotel, a Wes Craven film. Set in a fictional remote mountain village somewhere near the borders of Germany, Switzerland, and France, it is a quirky film revolving around the owner succession of a grand hotel. There is the requisite scene for a legal drama: " the reading of the will". From the deceased's children to her cousins thrice-removed, all assemble in a dark cavernous room, dressed in black, with an attorney at the center of attention. Here the legal misconceptions leap off the screen:
Except in limited circumstances, the attorney who drafts a will is not the Executor (or what Wisconsin law calls the Personal Representative) of the will;
The will in the movie is a massive heap of papers, of which the lawyer verbally summarizes in a sentence. Here in Wisconsin a copy of the will is delivered to the Interested Parties (those named in the will, the deceased's next of kin even if not named in the will, and any named nonprofits). Gathering a cast of characters in a large room where the will is read to them is dramatic but not realistic.
A third scene shows the person who inherited a valuable painting under the will dictating to his assistant a will, under which the assistant will be the sole heir. In my opinion a will written by the assistant, who is inheriting, is not a wise move.
The movie did contain some accurate points. First, an amendment to a will is called a codicil. Second, the attorney for the estate represents the estate. The the attorney does not represent the interests of any interested parties. That would be a conflict of interest.
This was a fun movie. Just do not take screen plays to be legal advice or education. If you have any legal thriller books or films with estate planning or probate issues you would like me to comment on in future newsletters, please send me a message!