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Eight Estate Planning Lessons from Killers of the Flower Moon

Don’t murder your clients—and other best practices.

Martin Scorcese’s Killers of the Flower Moon, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, released to rapturous praise in late October. Based on David Grann’s best-selling novel of the same name, the film tells the story of ‘The Reign of Terror’—the serial murder of the wealthy Osage Indians by their white ‘caretakers’ in the name of pilfering their rights to the oil under their reservation.

Each of the tribe’s 2,229 members received a “headright,” or share in oil money that could be inherited but not sold. One individual could inherit multiple headrights. Non-Native people were eligible to inherit headrights, so fortune-seeking white settlers could obtain shares in the tribe’s oil rights by marrying into an Osage family or otherwise maneuvering their way onto an Osage’s list of heirs. Hence all the murder.

As the Osage’s wealth grew, the federal government took steps to impose restrictions on the tribe’s financial autonomy. In 1921, Congress passed a measure requiring Osages to take a competency test to manage their own estates. Those deemed incompetent by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (aka all of them) were assigned a white guardian who oversaw their spending. That these guardians were impossibly corrupt goes without saying.

It’s not often that Scorcese directs a blockbuster movie whose main conflict centers around an archaic estate planning issue—and we’re not about to let this opportunity go to waste. So here are eight estate planning lessons from Killers of the Flower Moon:

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