King Lear – Lessons in Estate Planning

Shakespeare’s play “ King Lear” is a tragic story of estate planning gone awry.

The aging king of England decides to step down from his throne and leave his kingdom to his three daughters.   Instead of seeking expert advice from an experienced estate planner,   King Lear interviews his daughters to determine how the estate should be divided.

The two oldest daughters, of course, want him to gift them the entire kingdom immediately, and make him a lot of promises about how they will take care of all of his future needs.   King Lear, not realizing that a better solution would be to place the kingdom in a family limited partnership or a trust, hands them the keys to the kingdom.

With unrestricted ownership of the assets, the daughters treat King Lear badly.  He goes mad and wanders the countryside.    King Lear does not have a durable financial power of attorney, so there is not anyone to help him manage the few assets he had left.  He also does not have a medical power of attorney, which would allow someone to make health care decisions for him during his incapacity.

Clearly a guardianship is  called for, to address both the financial exploitation he had suffered and to help him get care.    But who would be the guardian?  All three daughters had equal preference under the law.  Unfortunately, King Lear hadn’t signed a Declaration of Guardian In the Event of Later Incapacitation, which would have prevented his two evil daughters from being named guardian.

The youngest daughter, who loves her father, is horrified.  She marries the King of France, and he obligingly invades England to try to save Lear.  Everyone tries to poison, maim or cheat  everyone else.  Eventually all of the main players die, leaving the kingdom in tatters.

Some version of Shakespeare’s fictional account is played out by families daily.   A parent can minimize family conflict with careful estate planning.