Estate Planning in Pop Culture: NBC's This is Us

I’m a little nervous to confess publicly that I watch NBC’s family drama “This is Us”. I both love and hate this show. I find it unfocused and the characters never seem completely realistic, but somehow it sucks me in every time.

This week’s episode – Season 6, Episode 7 – includes an interesting Estate Planning storyline. Rebecca, now in her late 60s or early 70s, is widowed, remarried, with 3 grown children from her prior marriage and 7 grandchildren. She’s recently diagnosed with early onset dementia. She’s become symptomatic and her illness is progressing.

In this episode, Rebecca calls a family meeting to communicate some Estate Planning decisions she’s made – specifically who will make decisions for her when she becomes incapacitated. There are some important lessons we can all learn from Rebecca:

  1. Make a plan and decide who will make decisions for you in the event of your incapacity. You should have a Durable Power of Attorney in which you name someone – typically a trusted family member or friend – to make financial decisions for you. You should also have a Health Care Proxy in which you name someone to make medical decisions for you. This is important to do, even if you aren’t suffering from an illness likely to lead to incapacity.

  2. Communicate your decisions with family members. Those who are appointed to make decisions should understand their roles and your wishes. Communicating with family members in advance may also help head off family feuding later on.

  3. If you have multiple children, it is okay to choose just one child. Many people – like Rebecca – do just that. There are lots of good reasons. It may be easier, with less administrative hassles and delays, if decisions can be made by only one person. One child may be local and thus more involved in your day-to-day life. You may also wish to exclude a child from decisionmaking if you aren’t confident he or she will do a good job.

  4. It’s okay to “go with your gut”. Rebecca designates her only daughter Kate – not her sons – as successor to her husband to make financial and medical decisions. When Kate asks “Why?”, Rebecca doesn’t really have a good answer. She did what felt right after much consideration, and that’s okay.