The Hollywood Reporter notes that despite Jurassic World's box office success, the newest installment "has trouble finding something to say beyond what 'Jurassic Park' already did 25 years ago."
I beg to differ. Jurassic World highlights some important estate planning issues in a fun filled, action packed, dinosaur laden 90 minutes. SPOILER ALERT!
Ok, so just what are those fantastic estate planning concepts so vividly portrayed in Jurassic World?
No. 1: What is an "Estate"?
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom opens with sweeping views of The "Lockwood Estate." The Lockwood Estate is exactly what you might picture when you hear the word "estate" but is in no way related to the legal version of an "estate" under California law.
Estate in California Probate Law = the sum of a person's assets, including the full market value of real property. Your estate must go through probate if greater than $150,000, unless you put your assets in a trust. #estateplan #goal2018
Benjamin Lockwood's estate is represented by a sprawling mansion surrounded by a vast forest, inside which his fortune is being used to build deadly dinosaur prototypes. We are quickly made aware of the many, many millions Mr. Lockwood has entrusted to his employee Eli Mills, which unbeknownst to Benjamin's knowledge, is being used for unsavory purposes (see financial elder abuse, below).
While perhaps much grander in scale than the average estate - Benjamin Lockwood is not unlike many Californians in the San Francisco Bay Area today. Lockwood owns a piece of real property worth a substantial sum of money, he has financial assets of value, and he has living family members whom he cares about.
In short, Jurassic World effectively illustrates the concept and meaning of an estate. After defining Lockwood's "estate," the movie explores what it means when your estate falls into the wrong hands.
No. 2: Financial Elder Abuse
Jurassic World offers up another difficult issue faced by a growing number of elder Californians - financial elder abuse.
In the film, Lockwood has become elderly and his health is declining. As such, he has placed Eli Mills in charge of his large fortune, with the understanding that Mills is working to further Lockwood's life work - creating a sanctuary for his beloved dinosaurs. Contrary to Lockwood's wishes, Mills is using Lockwood's resources in an attempt to make a substantial profit by selling the dinosaurs to the highest bidder.
Presumably, Mills has access to Lockwood's financial assets through a corporation or foundation. However, in the case of most older Californians who are subject to Financial Elder Abuse, it is a child or caregiver who gains access to funds through a durable power of attorney, joint bank account, or trust. However, it should be noted that Buzz Aldrin is currently suing his business manager (in addition to his children) for elder exploitation.
What is Jurassic World's message re elder abuse?
In addition to delivering a thrilling tale of dino drama, Jurassic World tells a story of exercising prudence in who you entrust your money to. If possible, put in checks and balances to ensure assets are being managed appropriately.
And, as a separate tip, don't place your kids on your bank accounts - set up a trust that allows them to manage the money as successor trustee, subject to the terms of the trust. (I know, I can't help it.)
No. 3: Carefully Choose your Guardian
Toward the end of the movie, Eli Mills menacingly tells Iris, caregiver for Lockwood's granddaughter Maisie, that he is named as Maisie's guardian, and orders Iris away.
A guardian is someone you name to care for your children (or grandchildren, etc) when you are gone. A guardian will manage all non trust assets for the child in addition to providing for the child's daily care. This means that any assets Lockwood had not placed in a trust would be passed to Eli, to manage and use for the care of Maisie. But with no oversight, Eli would have essentially free reign to use those assets as he saw fit. If Lockwood had also named Mills as successor trustee to his trust, Mills would have additional access to trust assets.
What is Jurassic World's message re Guardianship?
Carefully consider who the guardian for your minor children will be and make sure that person will truly have your child's best interest in mind. I will add that it is extremely important to nominate a guardian in your will, otherwise family members may disagree over the issue and create a stressful, drawn out process for your children.
It's also worth noting that selecting a guardian does not automatically appoint that person as guardian. A court process must be held to appoint a guardian.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom doesn't explicitly raise other estate planning issues, but it does make me wonder how the fictional Benjamin Lockwood would have set up his estate plan. If you're up for a bit more, here's how I'd guess he had set up his estate plan:
1. Benjamin Lockwood Revocable Trust
Settlor and Trustee: Benjamin Lockwood
Successor Trustee (upon death or incapacity): Eli Mills. As trustee, Eli will recoup trustee fees and expenses.
Beneficiaries: Maisie Lockwood, Lockwood Dinosaur Foundation (a 501c3 org)
Specific Gift of Money to Caregiver and Housekeeper, Iris
2. Durable Power of Attorney for Benjamin Lockwood
Agent to manage financial assets outside of trust: Eli Mills
Successor Agent: Professional Fiduciary
3. Advance Health Care Directive
Agent to manage medical decisions and care in the event of incapacity: Eli Mills
Backup Agent: Iris
4. Last Will of Benjamin Lockwood
A "Pour Over" Will to the Benjamin Lockwood Revocable Trust - "pours" any assets outside the trust into the trust
Executor: Eli Mills
Guardian for Maisie: Eli Mills
So what's the bottom line here? Go see Jurassic World if you're a fan of dinosaur action films or if you want to be subtly reminded of how you should really get around to doing your estate plan.