TV Lessons in Estate Planning: The Golden Girls

by David A. Kubikian

Season 1, Episode 7

Background: The Golden Girls is one of the most unique sitcoms in television history. Airing on NBC beginning on September 14, 1985, the show starred comedy icons Betty White and Bea Arthur along with Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty. They played Rose Nylund, Dorothy Zbornak, Blanche Devereaux and Sophia Petrillo (Dorothy’s mother), respectively. The show centers around these four older women as they all live together in, where else, Miami, Florida.

The Family Tree: Dorothy is the daughter of Sophia. She is also the ex-wife of Stan Zbornak and appears to have had three children (or two – The Golden Girls was never one for continuity) with Stan before he left her for a flight attendant…typical. Blanche and Rose are both widows. Rose’s husband was named Charlie and they had five kids while living in the polar opposite of Miami: St. Olaf, Minnesota.

Fun Fact: The main cast of the show each received their own Emmy Award during the show’s run, the first and only time this has happened. Also, Estelle Getty, who played Bea Arthur’s mother on the show was actually younger than her “daughter”. The series ended with Dorothy marrying Blanche’s uncle and moving to Georgia, but spinoff series The Golden Palace lasted for one season and centered on Blanche, Rose and Sophia running a hotel. The series also starred a young Don Cheadle.

Estate Planning Angles:

1. “Picture it – Sicily, 1922” – Sophia was a brash, sarcastic, witty and unforgettable TV character. When she wasn’t making fun of Blanche’s promiscuity, Rose’s idiocy or Dorothy’s lack of romance, she was recounting the good old days in Palermo, Sicily. Prior to living with the other girls, Sophia lived in Shady Pines, an old age home in Florida which burned down, leading to her showing up at their doorstep in the show’s pilot. Sophia is a natural segue to a discussion about long term care. Sophia went to Shady Pines because of a stroke she had suffered. Based on her actions during the show, it would not appear that she needed custodial care. She presumably could bathe, feed, dress, toilet and transfer herself when the need arose. If she was unable to do some of those basic activities of daily living, she would need custodial care. If she needed care related to a specific medical condition and that care was considered “skilled nursing care” she would need an extra level of professional care. In either event, she would be well served to try to get Medicaid coverage to pay for the exorbitant costs of either type of care. A lot of seniors think that they can pay for this care through Medicare, which is health insurance that those 65 and older have through the federal government. The reality, however, is that custodial care is not something that Medicare will cover. In addition, with respect to skilled nursing care, Medicare will cover a portion of only the first 100 days of care you receive and if they feel your improvement has hit a plateau, they can immediately stop coverage. So, how can one pay for either level of care if their health insurance refuses to pay?

In general, there are three ways to pay for long term care that is not covered by Medicare: private  pay, long term care insurance and/or Medicaid. Private pay is self-explanatory. Long term care insurance is another way to cover these types of costs, however, it deserves its own mini-series. The short story though is that long term care insurance, like any insurance, involves paying premiums (which are not cheap and can go up significantly without much notice) in order to receive anywhere from three years to lifetime coverage. There are a lot of different types of plans and while the best plans, if they are eventually used, are worth their weight in gold, the bad plans, that is the plans which cover only a small portion of long term care costs, may end up being a complete waste of money if you are unable to privately pay the amount of costs not covered by your insurance. Lastly, there is Medicaid (not Medicare), which is a needs-based government program that can cover custodial care at home or in a nursing home. I could teach a full semester class on the ins and outs of Medicaid. I highly recommend that you and/or your loved ones attend one of the free seminars we hold all over the Capital Region on a monthly basis to get the low down on all of the restrictions you face and benefits you can receive with Medicaid coverage. If you plan well, you can have Medicaid cover the $12,000/month tab that nursing homes will cost you and your family.

2. Thank You for Being a Friend – It has been mentioned over and over in these blog posts, however it must be reiterated, that the only way for friends, charities and certain relatives to receive any part of your estate is through your Last Will & Testament. Without a will, a New York statute determines who gets what. In the case of Sophia, her estate would go to Dorothy and her siblings. Dorothy’s, Blanche’s and Rose’s estates would go only to their respective children. Nothing would go to grandkids unless there was a predeceased child and nothing would go to friends or charities. In the show, the ladies, who were brought together by a classified ad, spent 6 seasons together. They became extremely close and were sisters when it came to the passing of relatives, the ending of relationships, and a lot more drama that was controversial for its time. If they wanted to leave something to one another, they would need a Last Will & Testament.


Stay tuned for next week’s episode: Family Guy

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 Golden Girls

  1. Pingback: TV Lessons in Estate Planning: Gilligan’s Island | Herzog Herald

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