The new film The Great Gatsby, based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s enduring 1925 novel, provides an opportunity to ponder estate planning lessons through the author’s own life story.
In his 1926 short story The Rich Boy, Fitzgerald wrote: “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand…”
Fitzgerald was born into an upper middle class family, raised in Buffalo, NY and St. Paul, MN. He went to a Catholic prep school in Hackensack, NJ and went on to college at Princeton.
Fitzgerald enjoyed literary and financial success with his first novel, This Side of Paradise, released in 1919. During the Jazz Age, he and his wife Zelda lived the high life depicted in The Great Gatsby, living in New York and Paris.
He was an alcoholic throughout his adult years, starting in his college days at Princeton. Zelda suffered from schizophrenia and was often hospitalized. Their only child, daughter Scottie, was born in 1921.
Only his first novel sold well enough to support the couple’s opulent lifestyle. As Zelda’s mental state deteriorated and the medical bills mounted, Fitzgerald was in constant financial trouble and obtained loans from his literary agent and his editor at his publishing house, Scribner’s.
He went to Hollywood in 1937, and made his highest annual income that year – $29,757.87. However, most of that income came from short story sales. Hollywood was hard on this novelist who could not make it as a screenwriter.
By 1940, when he died in Hollywood of a heart attack at the age of 44, he was financially destitute, estranged from his insane wife, and a broken man.
Because he was a non-practicing Catholic, the Archdiocese of Baltimore would not allow Fitzgerald to be buried with his father’s family in St. Mary’s Cemetery in Rockville, MD. Daughter Scottie had to fight to overturn the ruling and her parents’ remains were finally moved to the family plot in 1975.
Over Fitzgerald’s grave is the last line from The Great Gatsby: “And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
Surely, someone as volatile as F. Scott Fitzgerald could have benefitted from the sage advice of an estate planning attorney. What advice would you suggest? What direction can you provide to a similar client in this day and age?
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 television/DVD interview series, A Good Goodbye TV and 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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