What Five Estate Planning Tips Would I Give To My Favorite Star Wars Characters?
We are just a few short weeks away from the newest Star Wars coming out, The Rise of Skywalker (coming out December 2019). My son and I already have our tickets. We won’t be there the first night, but on day two, we’ll be at the IMAX theater, ready to watch and enjoy. I was going to hold this post until the movie opened, but with the Star Wars Series The Mandalorian bursting onto the scene, I couldn’t wait.
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I’ll preface this by saying I am a tried and true Star Wars nut, from the time that I was a kid. I grew up with the toys, the action figures, the ships.
We reenacted the movies with the toys and action figures, and then fought epic battles with our own toy lightsabers, making the humming sounds ourselves as we parried and swung. Then, as I got a little older, I bought modeling kits of the ships and vehicles, each with hundreds of pieces, and I spent hours building them. Some of them might still be hiding in an attic somewhere.
It’s still funny to me that my own son did those same things growing up. I can picture him and my daughter doing the “Jedi training”...
...and Mikey with his Yoda Shirt (Judge me by my size, do you?).
I loved the movies growing up, and my son and I go to see each new one together, every time they come out. My wife, forever the good sport, also joins (and she doesn’t even make fun of us), and sometimes Mikey brings a friend. My daughter Gabby, well, let’s just say she’s not interested, and we get the teenage girl “eye roll” whenever we ask her if she wants to tag along.
But I photoshopped her into this Princess Leia pic:
***Warning Spoiler Alerts Ahead***
SOME SPOILERS AHEAD FOR THOSE WHO HAVEN’T SEEN THE OLD MOVIES.
So here we have it – my 5 top estate planning tips for a galaxy far far away:
1.) Han Solo, everyone’s favorite. I’ll admit that I was glad we were in a dark theater when we saw The Force Awakens. Han was killed, by Ben Solo a/k/a Kylo Ren, his own son! I felt that lightsaber go through my heart as well, and it still stings. We know that Han and Leia had at least one kid, he of the evil father-murdering type, but what about kids in general in the star wars universe? If we want to leave our property to our kids while they are still young before we head off on a light-speed jaunt through the cosmos, how do we do it?
We don’t want young kids to take control of money when they are 18 or 21. Why? Duh - What’s the first thing they will do? Go blow all the cash on a car that can make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. Bad idea. Instead, you set up a trust and put a responsible adult in charge. The person in charge is called a Trustee, and the trustee makes decisions about the money, on behalf of your kids, until the kids reach certain ages and can take over the responsibility for themselves. We give them control a little bit at a time, at set intervals over a certain number of years or benchmark ages.
When I was thinking about this post, I was considering Han and Leia’s son, now known as Kylo Ren, and his being seduced by the dark side. It occurred to me, in a very serious manner, that such seduction is similar to the seduction of alcohol and drugs that our kids today have to contend with. I do not say this to make light of it – what these kids are tempted with every day is very real. In all seriousness, those kids that are suffering from the disease of addiction are in need of help. But the reality is that we can’t give a bunch of money to those kids directly, because we know where it would go. Instead, you create a trust and the trustee can use the money to get that child the help that he/she needs, through treatment and aftercare.
Han has one more thing to consider. We all know that Chewy isn’t a pet. Sure he’s furry and he growls, but he also humanoid and has been known to rip people's arms out of their sockets when he losses at board games. I'd say that makes him close enough to humans. But what about your actual pets? What happens to them if something happens to you, the smart thing is to take care of your pets with a pet trust.
Download our free report on pet trusts here.
2.) As if Han wasn’t enough, Luke died too. That fair-haired boy from Tatooine, who decided to follow Obi-Wan on a damn-fool idealistic crusade, just like his father did. He wanted to learn the force and become a Jedi like his father. Fast forward to the last movie, The Last Jedi, and we see Luke collapse in exhaustion, only to disappear, in the same manner as Yoda and the aforementioned Obi-Wan. So what about Luke’s estate?
Here’s a guy that doesn’t appear to have any family left (that we know of to date…) other than his sister. And while he might love his sister and want her to get his property, couldn’t he have other plans as well? And what if he had no family at all? If you don’t have family, do you even need a Will? Well, without it, the government is going to get your property. In the Star Wars universe, that government is an evil empire, so we definitely don’t want to give them anything! So again, let’s hope Luke planned ahead, and left his belongings to either his sister, or other named beneficiaries, or even to a school for the Jedi (not sure if that counts as a charity or not). Better than the Empire getting it. Even if he can somehow use the force from the grave, I’m not sure if he could sign legal documents as a ghost.
Did Luke have any retirement money? What about retirement funds? Not sure what kind of retirement plans the Jedi have or if they decided to unionize after Darth Vader started hunting them down. There could be a union with a pension, but what about Jedi 401ks? (Maybe called 401-Js? Get it?) Or for that matter, retirement plans for stormtroopers, smugglers, or bounty hunters? For sake of argument, let’s assume they’ve got some type of retirement account in place.
Do we want kids to fully inherit retirement funds at a young age? Again, no we don’t. The kids would by purchasing AT-AT Walkers and ending up broke. But if there is a Jedi IRA or some other retirement account, the retirees can use Retirement Trusts to make sure the funds are utilized for their kids’ benefit, without giving them full and immediate access at too young of an age. They can use tools like stand-alone retirement trusts (called SRTs) to control the funds and make sure the money is spent wisely. Trust your feelings, you know it to be true.
3.) Now let’s turn to Yoda – that little green fellow, who spoke in riddles and relished in busting Luke’s chops. Yoda died way way back in Return of the Jedi, after living over 800 years. True, it didn’t look like he had many assets in the physical sense. His house was tiny, was in a swamp, and surrounded by dangerous creatures. But maybe those Jedi tomes were worth a few bucks, right? Ancient Jedi texts, written by Jedi masters – I’d say they qualify as valuable antiques. Again, Yoda had no kids, and if he had no Will, his property could go to the Government (the evil empire, again). Well, what about his house? Did he want Luke to have it? If so, it needs to be in the Will, along with specific authority for his executor (called a Personal Representative here in Massachusetts) to sell real estate. If the Will doesn’t include that specific authority for real estate sales, then an entirely separate and extra process, BEYOND regular probate, has to be initiated, called a “Petition for License to Sell”. The process is long and expensive. Don’t leave that mess for your beneficiaries. (Read our free report on Wills and the other two most important estate planning documents here). I'll assume Yoda was brilliant enough to handle that ahead of time. So be like Yoda and get it done. Don’t’ wait. Do or do not. There is no try.
4.) Traveling at light speed has its risks. For example, without proper coordinates, ships could end up in the middle of an asteroid field, or fly right through a supernova, and that would end the trip real quick. Although earthly travel has fewer risks, it’s still a good idea to get your estate planning done before long trips, especially those outside the country. Plan Ahead! Sure, Characters in the Star Wars universe are more likely to die than us, because there doesn’t seem to be many rules against blaster fire in bars, so they have even more reason to plan. I’m not saying that you need to be worried every time you take a flight (“I’ve got a bad feeling about this”). But luck favors the prepared, even if you’re like Obi-Wan who says “In my experience, there is no such thing as luck.” Either way, Don’t wait for that bounty hunter who might be waiting for you at Mos Eisley Cantina (You’ll never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy).
5.) We talked about pets, but who inherits your droids? We can compare Droids to our modern-day digital assets, like digital email accounts, online banking, and online record keeping. Who gets control of your digital assets if you die? Is it already in your Will? If you think so, how old is it? I see tons of Wills that were good for their time, but they don’t cover digital assets because there was no such thing as a digital asset at the time the Will was created. Based on the current rules in Massachusetts, specific authority has to be granted to your executor to get access to digital assets. Right now, the landscape for Massachusetts on digital assets is like that asteroid that wasn’t an asteroid in empire strikes back. “Sir, it's quite possible this asteroid is not entirely stable”. The rules are in flux, and until they get straightened out, we have to plan accordingly.
Just naming someone as executor is NOT enough to force a company, like Yahoo or Google/Gmail to release digital assets to the executor. The specific authority has to be granted in the Will. Without it, the digital giants like google and apple can refuse to give access. I mean, what if R2-D2 never tried to track down his previous owner, Obi-Wan on Tatooine? Or if Luke hadn’t bought R2 and C-3PO from the jaws. Don’t let your digital assets fall into the hands of the empire.
As more movies come out we will find out more about our favorite characters, their families, their kids, and their legacies. Yes, I know it’s all a fantasy. But it’s a fantasy that shaped my childhood, just like 80's music did here. I’m happy to say it has shaped my son’s as well. Not just his, but the two of us together. We’ve been able to enjoy the movies and books together, laugh about it, talk about it, and bond over it. I know it's fiction, but it’s real enough to get my son, now in high school to still want to hang out with his dad and catch a movie together.
Want to learn more about Mike, or about Estate Planning and Elder Law? Download Mike’s book on the subject, at no charge HERE.
May the force be with you.