For anyone that knows me or follows our blog or other writings, you know that I am a very avid reader.
I read roughly 50 books a year, usually more than that, and it's always a mix of business-related books and books that I like to read for fun. I am a huge Stephen King fan. I have been since I was in the sixth grade and read the book Misery at age 12. Right from that first book, I was hooked, and I started reading every Stephen King book I could get my hands on. I always liked to buy my copy and keep it instead of getting them from the library, because I decided I wanted to collect all his books.
Today, I have at least one copy of every single Stephen King book and many of them I have both in hardcover and paperback as well. I read the paperbacks, but I keep the hardcovers on a shelf in perfect shape, mostly untouched.
As many of you also know, we like to put a fun twist on estate planning by talking about our favorite news bites from pop culture, whether it's celebrities like Britney Spears or fictional characters, like The Sopranos and Game of Thrones. Estate planning can be something that sounds dry and boring. To spruce it up, we like to talk about estate planning in the context of our favorite celebs and characters.
I don't know why it took me so long to do this, but I decided to write a post on estate planning for some of my favorite Stephen King characters. I have been toying with the idea for a while, but I had trouble picking my favorites. So, like many of our clients, I back-burnered the idea and just did nothing. I finally decided to stop waiting and just give it a go. That's because I just finished Stephen King’s newest book, Billy Summers, and if you read all the way to the end of this article, I'm going to tell you how to get a free copy of Stephen King's newest book or a copy of my favorite Stephen King book of all time, courtesy of me.
BEWARE, there are spoilers ahead!!
If you haven't read the books yet, be careful. I will do my best not to give away major plot points, but some description of the characters is necessary.
Let's start with King's newest character, Billy Summers.
Billy is an assassin for hire. He was a veteran of the Iraq war and a sniper, who later became a hitman for the right price. His only condition is that he would shoot only “bad people”. Because of his sniper training, he was excellent at his craft and had never been caught. Billy doesn't have a family, but in this new novel, he meets a young lady named Alice. The two form a friendship and eventually a strong bond.
Alice is an adult, and she is mature, but she's still a young adult. Since Billy has no other family, I'm going to assume that Alice would be his sole beneficiary. If we were going to give estate planning advice to Billy, we would start with our Big Three. The Big Three consist of a Last Will and Testament, a Power of Attorney, and a Healthcare Proxy. These items are essential for someone in such a dangerous profession. Billy deals with lots of shady characters and is risking his life every day. Having a Last Will and Testament would let him detail where he would want his assets to go if he died, and because Billy is good at his job, he's amassed quite a pool of money over the years.
We would also recommend that he name Alice as his Power of Attorney and Healthcare Proxy. Billy does have another close friend named Bucky, but he too is a shady character, and I wouldn't trust him to be Billy's Power of Attorney or Healthcare Proxy. That leaves us with Alice. She’s young but mature beyond her years. Alice as Power of Attorney could make financial decisions for Billy if he were unable to do so himself, such as if he were in a coma. The Healthcare Proxy would allow her to make healthcare decisions for him, again, if he couldn't do so himself. However, Alice is still a young adult and if Billy were to pass and leave her all his assets, she would inherit quite a pile of cash, and most likely it's more money than she would really know how to adequately manage.
In that case, we could set up a revocable Trust for Alice, where she is the beneficiary, and Billy could name someone else to oversee those funds and distribute the funds to her over time. He could hire a bank or financial company to act as a trustee. They would administer the funds on Alice's behalf. They can give her a certain amount per month or per year or at her request if her request is reasonable. Then at a certain age, the money could be turned over to her in full. We do these revocable Trusts, sometimes called Family Trusts, for people that want to leave money either to minors, people that are too young to inherit on their own, or to young adults that haven't had a lot of money managing experience yet. That would be the estate planning we would give to our newest Stephen King character, Billy Summers.
Now let's move on to another Stephen King book called Lisey's Story.
Lisey is a nickname for “Lisa”, referring to Ms. Lisa Landon, who in the book is the wife of Scott Landon, a famous author. Lisey is recently widowed after the passing of her husband and she has inherited substantial money, to the tune of millions of dollars, because Scott was a renowned and famous author, and his books sold very well. She is also having custody of numerous published and unpublished original works of Scott’s that she keeps in Scott's writing room over the barn on their property.
This book has been on my mind lately, even though I read it a long time ago because Apple TV recently released a mini-series of the book, and it was actually pretty good. Books don't always translate that great to movies, but this one, I felt, hit the mark. The mini-series stars Julianne Moore as Lisey and she does a good job with the part. You can watch this series on Apple TV here.
Scott and Lisey have no children (Scott is afraid to have kids because he thinks Landon men are essentially cursed), so when Scott dies, Lisey is left with the money and the books. Lisey has two sisters, one of which suffers from severe mental health issues. If we were going to recommend estate planning for Lisey, we would start with our Big Three, but then we would move on from there to some more specialized items.
First, Lisey has these original books, and she would have to decide what she wants to do with them. If she wanted to give them to her sisters, she could put that into her Will. She could also gift them to a library or a university, and she could put that into her Will as well. If she wanted the books to be seen in numerous places, she could set up a Trust for the books where the trustee would determine where and when the books are available for viewing, whether it's in libraries or even museums.
We can assume that because of Lisey's substantial assets if she were to pass, there are going to be some estate taxes, also known as death taxes, due. Now, if any of those assets are comprised of a large life insurance policy, the death benefit from that policy would be includable in her taxable estate. However, if we use a Life Insurance Trust (called an ILIT), we can carve out that life insurance policy and remove it from her taxable estate and really knock her estate tax number down.
Next, we know that Lisey would want to take care of her sister because she has been in and out of mental health facilities for much of her life. If we leave her sister the money directly, and her sister was receiving any type of government benefits, the outright gift could cause her to lose those benefits. So instead of an outright gift through the Will, we would set up a Supplemental Needs Trust for her sister. That way the money can be placed in Trust for her, it can be used for her benefit, but the money is not considered hers because there are restrictions on its use. By doing it that way, we don't risk her sister losing any benefits that she might be receiving for her healthcare or living expenses.
A Supplemental Needs Trust is a very technical Trust. It needs to be done perfectly by specialists because the government will try to pierce it if it can. But if done right, this would be a great tool for Lisey's planning and for the protection of her sister.
Let's move on to another one of my favorites, which is Stephen King's book entitled simply: “It”.
It was recently made into a two-part movie and before that, it was a TV mini-series years and years ago. It stars an eerily creepy clown, whose name is Pennywise. When I first read this book and I was maybe 13 years old, and it was the longest book that I had ever read, around 1090 pages. I've read longer books since then, but at the time this was the record. Even with a two-part movie, you can't really cram a thousand pages into a few hours, but the screenwriters still did a good job of bringing this book to life.
Among the book's many heroes is young Bill Denbrough. The book talks a lot about Bill during his childhood and his buddies in “the losers club”. Pennywise kills Bill’s younger brother George, and Bill never stops feeling responsible for his kid brother’s death.
When Bill grows up, he becomes an author, and he meets and marries his wife, Audra. For Bill, we would be looking at a little bit more traditional estate planning and as a successful author, we are definitely concerned about estate taxes for him. One of the ways that we cut down on estate taxes for a married couple is through the use of what is called a Credit Shelter Trust, or a CST. One of the biggest mistakes that people make is they will draft an estate plan where one spouse leaves all their money to the other spouse and by doing so when the second spouse passes away and has ownership of all the assets, there is a huge estate tax bite taken out of the money that people are trying to leave to their families.
Massachusetts has a very low estate tax limit, one of the lowest in the country, however, most people don't even realize that they would be subject to estate taxes and that their family would lose that money. The Credit Shelter Trust, if done properly, allows a surviving spouse to still have access to all the marital funds if the first spouse passes away. But because we are funneling it through the Trust, we are able to maximize the deceased spouse's estate tax deduction and really cut estate taxes down. If we do it properly, a married couple can pass up to $2 million in assets to their beneficiaries and owe zero in estate taxes. Without proper planning, a $2 million estate will pay roughly $100,000 in estate taxes. That's right. $100,000, and that's taken out of the money that you were trying to leave behind!
We would draft a Credit Shelter Trust for Bill and Audra so that whichever one of them passes first, the survivor still gets access to the funds, but at the same time minimizes the estate taxes that they would pay. We of course still recommend a Big Three for Bill and Audra, and if they did go on to eventually have children, we would put Family Trust provisions for the kids, so that if they were minors when Bill and Audra died, someone else would oversee the funds on their behalf until they were old enough to manage them for themselves.
If Bill or Audra had any type of retirement plan, like an IRA, we would recommend what we call an SRT, for Standalone Retirement Trust. That's a Trust designed specifically to handle retirement plans. Though there are not any tax benefits to this Trust, an SRT is about maintaining control over those funds after you’re gone. It's about making sure the money goes where you want after you pass.
If we've got minor children, we don't want them inheriting money directly, they are too young and we don't want their guardians to have complete control over the funds, so we do the SRT. We can explicitly state how and when that money is to be used on the children's behalf and at what age their remaining balance can be paid out to them free of the Trust. We can also stretch out the payments over the longest possible period so that we minimize taxes.
Let's move on to another book-turned-movie, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.
This was another one where I thought they did a good job translating the book into a film. I'll always like the book better, but the movie is something that I can watch whenever it's on because I don't get tired of it. This story is about a young banker named Andy Dufresne, who was convicted of murdering his wife and her lover. He's sentenced to Shawshank prison for two consecutive life sentences (one for each of his two victims). He did not commit the crime, but there was strong evidence against him, and the jury quickly convicted him. The story covers his life in prison, as well as a friendship he strikes up with another prisoner named Red.
Spoiler alert here. Andy eventually escapes from prison through a hole he digs over many years, hidden behind a poster of Rita Hayworth, and other starlets. He talked to Red about his dream of moving to Mexico, opening a small hotel with a fishing charter service. Fast forward to several years later when Red is paroled, and he travels to Mexico to meet up with Andy and be part of the hotel project.
The ending scene of the movie is great because it goes a step further than the book and I love that the movie provides a little bit more closure. It's one of the few times where I like the ending of the movie better.
We are going to treat Andy and Red as business owners, each with a share of the hotel business. Business owners need special consideration for their estate planning. I recently wrote a book on estate planning specifically for business owners called Your Business, Your Money. (Free copies are available on our website or can be mailed out. To get yours, click here.) Business owners are notoriously bad at getting their estate planning done, and they are among the people who would benefit the most from it.
First, we would want to make sure that they have the correct business documents in place. That includes a corporation or LLC agreement between Andy and Red so that they have properly organized the company and they limit themselves from personal liability. At the same time, we would want to draft what is called a buy-sell agreement between the two. That way, if one of them were to pass away, it is clearly delineated what happens to their share of the business. Maybe it goes to the other partner, maybe it goes to the deceased partner's family, but there need to be special provisions about who takes over and runs the business if one of them dies.
We would also recommend that they both have their own Big Three. The Will, Healthcare Proxy, and Power of Attorney, so that if anything happened to either of them, their assets would go to the individuals that they choose. We don't know if either of them ever marries or has children. But if so, we might look at Credit Shelter Trusts and Family Trusts for them as well.
Now, let's move on to one of my favorites, a shorter book called Joyland.
Because it's not super lengthy, it's not a huge commitment to read, therefore, I read it every summer. My family and I like to travel a lot. During that time, when we're sitting on the beach or by the pool, I always have a book in my hand and at least once per year, this book is one of them. I recently had to order another paperback version because I had read my last one to death. Between the sun, the salt air, and chlorine from the pool, the pages were falling apart. I always keep a hardcover cover on hand as well.
Joyland is a story about a college student named Devin Jones who has a breakup with his girlfriend and travels from his college in New Hampshire to North Carolina to work in an amusement park called Joyland. He has many adventures during his time at Joyland, including meeting a young wheelchair-bound boy named Mike Ross who has some psychic abilities. Those psychic abilities help Devin to eventually solve a murder that happened at Joyland years before, and they help save Devin's life. It's a great read.
Devin is a college student who doesn't have any family in the area. His mom has already passed away and his dad lives in Maine. If anything were to happen to Devin, if he were to get hurt on the job, for example, his dad would have no access to Devin's medical care, healthcare providers, or any of his finances, unless Devin has a Power of Attorney and Healthcare Proxy, where he could name his dad in those positions.
Devin spends time working the Ferris wheel, which in the book is called the Carolina Spin (according to Lane Hardy, up where the air is rare, and the view is much more than fair!) and much of Devin's summer is spent running the ride as well as dressing up as Howie the Happy Hound and dancing with the kids. If Devin were to fall of the Spin and was in the hospital, and his dad was to call and try and check on him, privacy regulations would prevent the hospital from telling his dad any information because Devin is over 18 and therefore an adult. A Healthcare Proxy done properly would allow Devin's dad this access.
This is something we recommend to anyone that has college-age children, especially if they are moving out of state for school. If they're over 18, mom and dad will have no access to their child's medical care if they get hurt, unless they have a proper Healthcare Proxy in place. In fact, if you have a child that is going to college this year, we are running a special promotion to provide the Healthcare Proxy for you. Give our office a call at 978-657-7437 if you need to get a Healthcare Proxy and Power of Attorney for your child.
As Devin grows older and eventually gets married and has children, we would recommend, of course, the Big Three and possibly a Medicaid Trust. A Medicaid Trust is used to protect your home from long-term care liens. If you apply for benefits for long-term care, whether it's in-home care or care in a nursing home, and you are approved for benefits, Medicaid can put a lien against your house to try and get their money back when you die. If we put the house in a properly done Medicaid Trust, which is a very, very technical and precise document, we can protect the home from Medicaid liens once the home has been in Trust for five years. That's because Medicaid has a five-year look back, and we have to do the Trust early so that the property is fully protected.
Even though that’s 5 books, I'll give you one more as a bonus here.
If I had to pick my next favorite book, it would be a series, and that's Stephen King's Dark Tower series, starring Roland Deschain. This is a series of books that were released over many years. I've read them all multiple times. It's a much bigger commitment because we're talking thousands of pages, but it's really a great story and the characters are awesome.
In the story, Roland and his group (called a ka-tet) have a pet whose name is Oy. Because Roland comes from another world, Oy is not exactly a dog, but he's a lot like a dog and has a lot of dogs' behaviors. For Roland, among other things, we might recommend a Pet Trust. If you have a pet and you pass away, someone must take care of your pet. Not only does someone have to take the pet in, but they must take on the financial responsibility for that pet, including food and medical care.
Every pet owner knows that medical care for pets is extremely expensive. If you are going to leave someone your pet, you can do the courtesy of setting up a Pet Trust for them. That's where you set aside some money out of your estate to be put in the Trust for the caretaker to use on the pet's behalf. That way, yes, they're taking on your pet for you, but they aren't taking on the financial burden that goes with it. You've taken care of that for them by putting some money aside.
So that is the estate planning advice for some of our favorite Stephen King characters and here's the cool bonus that we're going to include here...
First, I accidentally ordered three extra copies of Stephen King's newest book, Billy Summers. In the world of the Dark Tower, we can call it “ka” which is akin to fate or destiny. I ordered them from Amazon, paid in full, in the new hardcover version and I'm going to give a copy to each of the first three people that comments on this post that they would like one. If you comment that you read the blog and that you would like a copy of the book, we will reach out to you by email for your address and send you one (US addresses only). The first three people only. As an additional bonus, I ordered three paperback copies of Joyland, my favorite Stephen King book. I'm going to give those copies out to the first three people that comment that they would like a copy of Joyland.
Please, no double-dipping. Don't request both books. It's one or the other and the first three people that request them will get them. We will reach out by email for your mailing address, and we will send them out to you. We will also include with that a copy of my free book on estate planning as well.