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One of the evolving storylines of this award-winning television show involves the drama (and humor) surrounding the family business, Pritchett’s Closets and Blinds. In the beginning, Jay Pritchett, the family patriarch, owns and runs the business, but ultimately passes it along to his daughter Claire when he retires. The shenanigans involving the business provide some lessons on family business management and succession. As far as we can tell, Jay never discusses his intentions with Claire, but rather tricks her into wanting to take over the business by pretending to offer the CEO position to a non-family member. He says that he was testing her to see if she would fight for the position. Once she does become CEO, he often meddles in her decisions, creating chaos.
Jane the Virgin
Who’s considered to be part of the family? As Jane the Virgin illustrates, modern technology may lead to unusual situations (to say the least). At the start of the series, Jane (a virgin) is studying to be a teacher and engaged to a detective. She lives with her mom (who had Jane when the mom was just 16) and grandmother and works as a waitress at the Marbella, a fancy hotel. One day, Jane goes for a routine clinic visit, and the doctor accidentally inseminates her with a specimen meant for another patient. Needless to say, Jane becomes pregnant, and the father is none other than the son of the hotel’s wealthy owner. As you can imagine, complications ensue, especially after Jane gives birth to a baby boy. The show brings to light what happens when an “accidental” family is created with a large difference in wealth between the two sides of the family.
The main plotline of Empire is centered around family patriarch Lucious Lyon’s struggle, after being blindsided with a diagnosis of terminal ALS, to choose a successor from among his three sons to take over his entertainment conglomerate. This conflict represents perhaps the most common issue that estate planners encounter when dealing with high-net-worth family business owners. Often, the first-generation wealth creator is so consumed with growing and maintaining his life’s work that he fails to consider who will manage it when he no longer can, let alone the consequences of a botched wealth transfer. Many such driven individuals fail to even recognize the simple fact that a day will eventually come when they won’t be able to manage the business… until that day inevitably comes, of course. It’s tempting to call Lucious foolish for failing to prepare for this eventuality. However, it’s important to realize that in his mind, and the minds of many wealth creators like him, he and Empire are one and the same. That one could exist without the other is an anathema to the self-determined ideals that helped him build the business in the first place.
Game of Thrones
Long-time readers of the site will know we’re huge fans of this show and the many, many lessons it has to offer advisors. To choose just one, let’s take the death that kicks off the show’s massive race for the throne—King Robert Baratheon’s sudden demise. There are many lessons people can take from Robert Baratheon (conquerors don’t make good kings, alcoholism can kill, etc.), but perhaps the most important: Don’t allow clients to attempt to write wills themselves. It’s too easy to make a big, costly mistake. In Robert’s case, when writing the will, Ned Stark replaces "My son Joffrey" with "my heir" because the king's eldest son is, actually, a bastard. The will, and Ned Stark’s subsequent actions, tip off the aforementioned struggle for the throne that costs the lives of thousands.
A movie about the rule against perpetuities! It’s every law students’ worst nightmare. All kidding aside, this George Clooney-led film mad a pretty big splash back when it came in 2011, but has largely faded from view since then, which is a shame, since it’s a fairly down-to-earth (as long as you ignore the adulterous coma stuff) and realistic view of some fairly mundane issue that many HNW families face. Clooney’s Matt King is a Hawaii-based attorney and the sole trustee of a family trust holding 25,000 acres of highly valuable land. While Matt managed his finances well, most of his cousins have squandered their respective windfalls. With the trust expiring in seven years due to the rule against perpetuities (hooray!), Matt has to struggle with the conflicting responsibilities of preserving his family’s legacy by protecting the land and taking care of his actual living family by selling it.
I mean, it’s right there in the name. This story of high-net-worth family conflict and betrayal is perhaps the most “realistic,” and thereby, useful example on this list. Perhaps that’s because the titular Pierce family is based heavily on the stories of real-life media moguls, such as the Redstones, Murdochs and even Trumps. Indeed, according to a Vanity Fair article, Succession’s creator, Jesse Armstrong, based the show on a decade-old script he created that was literally called Murdoch. The lessons, and warnings, this show presents for advisors come fast and furious, and are too numerous to recount here. But suffice it to say that spending some time with the detestable Pierce children as they jockey for position in the struggle to establish themselves as the heir apparent to their somehow even more odious father’s media empire is time well-spent from both an entertainment and educational standpoint.