Hollywood movies, especially comedies, help reduce people’s resistance to considering end-of-life topics such as estate planning, advance health care directives and funeral planning.
Recently, I presented this collection of film clips about wills to a group of estate planning professionals. Estate planning attorneys may find these film clips helpful for prompting clients to make or revisit their wills.
This black comedy follows three generations of a family who come together for the funeral of the patriarch – unveiling a host of family secrets and covert relationships. In a scene at the lawyer’s office for the reading of the will, the attorney plays a video message from the deceased that reveals a rude surprise for the family.
An ash-scattering road trip movie for adult women, Bonneville starts out with a lesson on wills and second marriages. Jessica Lange plays the second wife, whose husband dies while they are traveling abroad. His rich, resentful daughter points out that “Daddy” didn’t update his will. This leaves the second wife out in the cold, as the will says the house goes to the daughter. Jessica was sure the will had been updated, but apparently, “Daddy” did not get around to it.
Grand Theft Parsons
This comedy based on a true story offers the opportunity to discuss holographic wills. Musician Gram Parsons died of an overdose of morphine and alcohol in 1973. He had made a pact with his manager to have his body cremated by pyre illegally in Joshua Tree National Park. Even though Gram was married, his girlfriend Barbara, played by Christina Applegate, shows up with a hand-written piece of paper claiming it’s Gram’s will giving her all of his earthly possessions. Can this be valid?
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir:
This classic black-and-white drama provides an illustration of the hazards of dying without a will. Rex Harrison plays a British sea captain at the turn of the 20th century who died accidentally at home of gas poisoning. Gene Tierney plays a young widow who has taken up residence in his house. His ghost haunts the house, which he had planned to make a retirement home for seamen. Since he died without heirs or a will, his cousin in Australia owns the house, which Mrs. Muir has rented. The ghost hatches a plan to restore his goal for the house from beyond the grave.
The Six Wives of Henry LeFay
This comedy illustrates the challenges of sorting out multiple marriages in estate and funeral planning. It stars Tim Allen as Henry LeFay, a man who, as you might guess from the title, has been married a few times. Chaos erupts at the funeral home as the current and ex-wives come together prior to the funeral and argue about arrangements. One ex-wife is his business partner, and Henry left a trail of letters expressing different funeral wishes with each ex-wife. How do you untangle or avoid this mess?
There’s also a classic VW Beetle commercial from 1969 that illustrates in 60 seconds how money can be used as a reward or punishment from beyond the grave. If you are interested in seeing or discussing these film clips, send me an email: Gail [at] AGoodGoodbye.com.
Gail Rubin, CT, The Doyenne of Death®, brings a light touch to serious subjects as a speaker who uses humor and funny films to attract people to discuss mortality, end-of-life, estate and funeral planning issues. She is Certified in Thanatology: Death, Dying and Bereavement by the Association for Death Education and Counseling. A pioneering Death Café hostess, she is author of the award-winning book and host of the TV and radio shows A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die. Gail is an ongoing contributor to the AAEPA blog. Her website is http://agoodgoodbye.com/
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