TV Lessons in Estate Planning: Diff’rent Strokes

by David A. Kubikian


Season 1, Episode 4

Background: Diff’rent Stokes made its debut on NBC on November 3, 1978 and later switched to ABC. The show was about two young boys from Harlem, Arnold (Gary Coleman) and Willis (Todd Bridges) who were adopted by their deceased mother’s boss, Phillip Drummond, who had his own daughter, Kimberly. Helping out in the house was the ever-present Mrs. Garrett, who left the show after a year and a half to help out another demographic of minors (more on this later).

The Family Tree: Phillip Drummond is a widower who has three kids, Kimberly (biological) along with Willis and Arnold (adopted). Later in the show he remarried a divorced fitness instructor named Maggie who had her own son, Sam.

Fun Fact: Mrs. Garrett was spun-off onto her own show, The Facts of Life, which centered around four girls attending a boarding school in Peekskill, New York.

Estate Planning Angles:

1. Adoption – Adoption is a wonderful way for non-biological caretakers to formalize their relationship with the children they care for. Obviously, an adoption would result in the legal guardian for a minor to be the new parent. From an estate planning perspective, absent an adoption, you remain the natural heir to your biological parents. If Willis and Arnold’s biological father passed away, Willis and Arnold would be his legal heirs, in addition to a spouse or other children their father may have had during his lifetime. Once Mr. Drummond adopted the boys, however, they became legal heirs of Mr. Drummond along with Kimberly, Mr. Drummond’s biological daughter. They would simultaneously cease being the legal heirs of their father. Prior to the remarriage, if Mr. Drummond passed away, New York State would consider the three children his own and they would be entitled to split the estate if there was no will. If Mr. Drummond had a will that predated the adoption, the boys could obtain portions of the estate just as if they were biological children who were born after the will was signed and accordingly not mentioned specifically in the will.

2. We Want Prenup – Say what you will about Kanye West, but sometimes he provides sound advice in his lyrics. No doubt Mr. Drummond married for love and will always and forever stay married to Maggie, his second wife. Absent a prenuptial agreement though, Maggie would be entitled to a significant portion of Mr. Drummond’s estate. If Mr. Drummond died without a will, she would receive about 1/2 of the estate with at least Kimberly, Arnold and Willis sharing the balance. If her son, Sam, was adopted by Mr. Drummond, he would also receive an equal share. If Mr. Drummond died with a will, even if he left Maggie nothing in the will, she would be entitled to an Elective Share of the estate which is essentially 1/3 of the estate, give or take a few rules I will not bore you with. Mr. Drummond would be wise to set up a trust in his will (or during his life) so that it would be clear that there are substantial monies going to his children with his loving second wife enjoying parts of his estate for her life. If he did a typical “I love you” will that usually states “everything to my spouse”, there is no guarantee that Maggie will have an estate plan of her own that takes care of Kimberly, Arnold and Willis since she is not their biological or adopted mother. The only way that Mr. Drummond can guarantee to provide for the boys and Kimberly is to have a serious estate plan.

3. Whatcha Talkin’ Bout Willis? – Obviously those four words need to be in this blog post. Last week we touched on protecting minors and young adults from themselves (see Tanner, Stephanie). The cast of Diff’rent Strokes wrote the manual on how to be a crashing child star. Kimberly and Willis both had very public issues with substance abuse. Kim was basically written off the show “traveling Paris” while she dealt with her legal woes and unplanned pregnancy. Let’s face it, Mr. Drummond was loaded. He had a penthouse on Park Avenue and three kids who would likely make all the wrong choices with oodles of money at a very young age. The solution would be setting up a revocable trust during his life, where he could transfer assets during his life and direct assets from his estate. I would recommend a professional trustee like a bank to run the trust after Mr. Drummond’s passing to make sure that the kids grow up and get through their problems before they own significant assets outright.

Stay tuned for next week’s episode: The Wonder Years

The TV lessons in Estate Planning blog provides general information for educational (and entertainment) purposes only.  Due to the particulars of each person’s circumstances, this blog should not be considered legal advice applicable to your specific fact pattern.

One thought on “TV Lessons in Estate Planning: Diff’rent Strokes

  1. Pingback: TV Lessons in Estate Planning: Full House | Herzog Herald

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