TV Lessons in Estate Planning: Gilligan’s Island

by David A. Kubikian


Season 1, Episode 6

Background: Gilligan’s Island is a legendary TV show that had a shorter run than people think (three seasons) on network television. The show, which almost all critics hated, received a cult following during its short run in primetime and syndication. The show follows the adventures of the doomed passengers aboard the S.S. Minnow. The passengers (the Howells, the Professor, Mary Ann, and Ginger) were on a three hour tour off the coast of Hawaii when their ship, helmed by the Skipper and Gilligan, lost its way and ended up on an island. Antics ensued as the cast was able to fashion everything from coconut radios and full on luxury residences while simultaneously unable to fix a hole in the boat.

The Family Tree: No real family trees other than Thurston Howell III and his wife, Lovey. The rest of the cast is, of course, Jonas “Skipper” Grumby, Gilligan (no last name, like Cher), the Professor Roy Hinkley, Mary Ann Summers, and Ginger Grant.

Fun Fact: Raquel Welch auditioned for the role of, who else, Ginger, the movie star, and Carroll O’Connor (see All in the Family) auditioned for the Skipper. Also, an eleven year-old Kurt Russell made a one episode cameo as “Jungle Boy”.

Estate Planning Angles (believe it or not they exist):

1. All About the Benjamins – When I was younger, my idea of what the word “rich” meant was defined very simply –  Mr. and Mrs. Thurston Howell III. If anyone could have champagne wishes and caviar dreams it would surely be them. They were the 1% long before that term became a thing. From an estate planning perspective, they are the logical segue to a discussion about Federal and New York State Estate Taxes. People often ask if you are taxed on an inheritance and the short answer is no. There is no inheritance tax on the person who receives assets. However, the longer answer is that there could be taxes payable by the estate itself based on the value of the estate. Federally, you can die with a little less than $5.4 million (pronounced “five point four millllllllllion dollars muwahahaha”) without any estate taxes due. If you are married, you can pass up to $10.8 million tax free as well. In New York State, you can avoid estate tax if you are “slumming it” under $3.5 million. No advantages for being married in New York State. The top estate tax rate is 45% federally. All property you own can be part of your taxable estate, including things you may only have control over like a life insurance policy. If you could have changed the beneficiary the day you died, your policy payout will be part of your taxable estate. Like any tax, there are a slew of ways to lower your taxes by making use of various deductions that I won’t bore you with while talking about Gilligan’s Island. People tell me they wish they’ll have a taxable estate because it means they have great wealth. I tell them instead to wish that they do their estate planning with us. They’ll keep more of the wealth they get.

2. Wilson!!!!! – This could probably be saved for a future “Estate Planning Lessons in Tom Hanks Movies” but a blog about Castaway will instead need to serve as a refresher down the road. At some point, the crew and passengers of the S.S. Minnow will be presumed dead if they are not found. Life goes on back home and assets and estates must be dealt with. There is no hard and fast rule for when someone will be presumed dead for estate purposes. However, we recently had a case where a gentleman was never found after the large tsunami in South East Asia. His dog and a tattered t-shirt were found and, after some time, he was presumed deceased and a death certificate was issued. It’s all really fact-specific.

3. Some Three Hour Tour – One of the main reasons I will tell people never to use websites that spit out a Last Will & Testament for you at a discount price is that New York State is very particular about the procedures that are followed during the execution of a will. There are certain formalities that need to be met and when you use an attorney, there is an initial presumption that everything was signed on the up and up in terms of its due execution. That presumption does not exist when you execute your will on your kitchen table in the presence of your two dogs. If the formalities are not met and if there is a family member who is none too pleased with their inheritance or lack there of, you can face your Last Will & Testament being thrown out. The passengers of the S.S. Minnow likely would not need to follow all of these formalities. As “mariners at sea” they would qualify to make an oral (nuncupative) Last Will & Testament if he/she in the presence of two witnesses spoke of the will provisions they would want. They could also write a will with no witnesses (holographic) if the document was written by hand by the testator. A scribble on a piece of wood, for example, could be a valid Last Will & Testament for mariners at sea. Of course, one could argue that once they got to the island they were technically no longer mariners at sea, but work with me here, this is an estate planning blog…

Stay tuned for next week’s episode: The Golden Girls

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: Gilligan’s Island

  1. Pingback: TV Lessons in Estate Planning: The Wonder Years | Herzog Herald

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