TV Lessons in Estate Planning: The Wonder Years

by David A. Kubikian


Season 1, Episode 5

Background: The Wonder Years made its TV debut on January 31, 1989 on ABC immediately following Super Bowl XXII. The show revolves around Kevin Arnold from ages 12 to 17 and his trials and tribulations during the late sixties and early seventies. The show doesn’t actually disclose its location but it’s believed to be Huntington, Long Island, where one of the writers was born and raised. The show tells Kevin’s story through the narration of Daniel Stern (of Wet Bandit and Sticky Bandit fame; see Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York) and touches on first loves (Winnie Cooper), best friends (Paul Pfeiffer), the Vietnam War, sibling rivalry, and the awkward moments of growing up.

The Family Tree: Jack and Norma Arnold are the parents of Karen, Wayne and Kevin Arnold.

Fun Fact: The theme song for The Wonder Years is “With a Little Help From My Friends”, written by two guys named John Lennon and Paul McCartney from their epic Sgt. Pepper’s album. It’s covered by raspy voiced Joe Cocker.

Estate Planning Angles:

1. The Old Man – Jack Arnold spent most of the show working for a defense contractor called NORCOM (similar to Long Island’s Northrop Grummon). The show takes place in the sixties and seventies, so no doubt Jack had pension benefits with his job since IRAs and 401-ks didn’t exist back then. For purposes of this blog though, let’s assume his benefits were generic “retirement benefits”. With most retirement plans, you can designate beneficiaries and in the case of pensions, often times you can name beneficiaries for death benefits in return for having a smaller pension. Normally, someone will name their spouse as beneficiary of the retirement plan and upon their death, the plan will transfer to the beneficiary. Things get complicated though when the spouse predeceases or is elderly and is in need of or is receiving Medicaid.

In the case of a predeceased spouse, the plan would look at the backup beneficiary. Usually, people do not keep this up to date and in Jack’s case maybe he had his wife as a primary beneficiary and then as a backup, his first born child, Karen. Did he update the forms when Wayne was born and when Kevin was born? I hope so. It may be his goal to treat all of his kids the same, but he needs to make sure that he is aware of what assets pass outside of his will because there are named beneficiaries in these types of accounts. In the case of a spouse who is receiving or in need of Medicaid for their care, the ramifications of having your spouse as an outright beneficiary may result in either your spouse losing their eligibility or the retirement plan’s income being accessible by Medicaid *see the next paragraph). It is so important that you take the time to review your beneficiary designations on these accounts.

2. Thanks LBJ! – Based on the timing of the show, Kevin was born in 1956. Today, he would be 59 years old and would be a prime candidate to start to plan for his elder years and long term care. He would still have a number of options including getting long term care (LTC) insurance or doing what we call “Medicaid Planning”. LTC gets pretty pricey and an alternative that more and more people are utilizing is creating an Irrevocable Medicaid Trust. Medicaid, which started in 1965 during Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidency, is a need-based government program which will pay for some or all of your long term care costs so long as you don’t exceed certain asset and income levels. An Irrevocable Medicaid Trust entails setting up a trust and moving large assets, especially income producing assets, to the trust in order to protect them from making you ineligible for Medicaid. If and when down the road you need to utilize Medicaid benefits, those assets you moved to the trust will not be counted as your assets. This is the super simplified version of the plan. There are many rules and caveats, but nursing homes are expensive, $12k a month expensive, and when you or Mom and Dad start approaching their golden years, it’s really important to look at ways to save hundreds of thousands of dollars in assets while simultaneously getting the care you need. More on this when the blog discusses what else, The Golden Girls a few weeks from now.

3. Oh That Winnie Cooper! – One of the sweetest parts of The Wonder Years was the “will they/won’t they” relationship that Winnie and Kevin had. The show ends with Winnie and Kevin rekindling their puppy love, but Kevin and Winnie never got married. In the show’s epilogue, they apparently stay close friends with Winnie moving to Paris. Kevin marries and starts a family with another woman. I am often asked who needs a will and the reality is anyone over 18, even if you don’t have any stuff to your name and are living in your parent’s basement. Multiply the urgency level by infinity if you have a minor child like Kevin did.

Stay tuned for next week’s episode: Gilligan’s Island

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: The Wonder Years

  1. Pingback: TV Lessons in Estate Planning: Diff’rent Strokes | Herzog Herald

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