Estate planning attorneys can use the popular TV program Mad Men to help their clients start conversations on wills, trusts and funerals.
In the season premiere of AMC-TV’s Mad Men, mortality seems to be on the minds of many key characters.
Ad exec Roger Sterling’s secretary tearfully delivers the news that his 91-year-old mother died of a stroke in her bathroom. This sets in motion many of the reactions and relationship issues we so often see at funerals or memorial services: dazed and stunned mourners, tense and awkward interactions with distant relatives, and family members angling for money.
Roger takes the news without a tear. In a later scene, he confesses to his psychiatrist that he really doesn’t feel anything at all anymore.
At the memorial service held in Mom’s elegant home, a demanding older woman in a wheelchair (an old friend of Roger’s mother) insists on being the first speaker at the event. She relates that after Roger’s father died, Mom made her son the center of her life. Roger doesn’t seem to know what to do with this information.
Use this as a lesson your clients can learn from: It can be helpful to have a celebrant or clergy person emceeing the memorial service, to thoughtfully manage speakers such as this lady. The bereaved family has enough on their hearts and minds without having to stage-manage a show.
Interestingly, Roger’s mother was cremated. She was in the minority in 1967. That year, those choosing cremation for final disposition in the U.S. averaged 4.18% of the entire population (figures from CANA, the Cremation Association of North America).
Roger’s ex-wives and daughter show up at the memorial service. In the fashion of the era, all are dressed in black. One of the ex-wives has a new husband who shows up to pay his respects, and Roger screams at him to get out. Then Roger declares the memorial service over. It hardly had a chance to get started.
After the service, Roger’s daughter asks if “Nana” had left her anything. Roger hands her a jar of water from the Jordan River, water used to baptize them both. She was hoping for money that could be used for a new venture her husband wants to invest in – refrigerated trucking.
Roger informs his daughter that Nana’s estate directed most of her considerable assets toward supporting animals at the zoo. Roger says her will “looked like the manifest for Noah’s ark.”
At least her money went toward a cause she believed in.
Mad Men is an addictive television series. Even if you or your clients have never watched it, you may want to seek out this season six opening episode, titled “Doorways.”
Gail Rubin, The Doyenne of Death®, is author of the award-winning book, A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die. She hosts a new television interview series, A Good Goodbye TV and the upcoming Internet radio program at RockStarRadioNetwork.com. She uses humorous film and TV clips to help start funeral planning conversations. Her website is www.AGoodGoodbye.com.
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