TV Lessons in Estate Planning: Family Guy

by David A. Kubikian


Season 2, Episode 1

Background: Family Guy is an animated sitcom that first aired on Fox on January 21, 1999. The series, which was cancelled in 2003 only to be revived a few years later, revolves around the Griffin family in the fictitious New England town of Quahog, a suburb of non-fictitious state capital Providence, Rhode Island.

The Family Tree: Peter and Lois Griffin are parents to Chris, Meg and baby Stewie. Lois comes from money as a member of the Pewterschmidt family. The Griffins have a “pet” dog, Brian, who not only speaks perfect English, but also enjoys a good martini and is very well-read.

Fun Fact: The animated characters have some very well-known voices. Chris Griffin is voiced by Seth Green (Austin Powers 2 and 3, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Meg Griffin is voiced by Mila Kunis (That 70’s Show, Black Swan, Ted). The show’s creator and executive producer, Seth MacFarlane voices many of the characters including Peter and Stewie Griffin and creep show neighbor Glenn “giggity gig” Quagmire.

Estate Planning Angles:

1. Talking Dogs – Animated shows have an unfair advantage over normal sitcoms. The can segue, flashback, make things blow up and, among other things, make dogs talk with relative ease. In Family Guy, the family dog is one of its most redeeming characters. Brian, who has very human flaws, might be the smartest and most down to earth character on the show. Despite his vocal abilities, he is, for better or worse, just a pet. Yes, a pet who is a member of the family, but a pet nonetheless. Pets do not have inheritance rights (unfortunately they also are not allowed to serve as an executor because Brian would be perfect). If you pass away without a will in New York State, there are no provisions to deal with who will take care of your pet. Assets are not divided to pay for the costs of a pet in your estate unless you say so.

If you want to provide for your pet in the event you pass before them, you can include provisions in your will giving an individual of your choosing money in order to care for your pet. You can also go a step further and create an actual “Pet Trust” to make sure that the Brian in your life has funds set aside for his/her care. Infamous New York Real Estate Mogul Leona Helmsley a.k.a. “The Queen of Mean” left $12,000,000 to her Maltese named Trouble and also provided in her will that when Trouble went to the luxury pet salon in the sky, she would be buried next to Ms. Helmsley. A court later knocked down the Pet Trust to a modest $2,000,000 and voided the cemetery instructions since it’s against code to have dogs and humans buried together. Who knew?

2. Stewie – Baby Stewie, like Brian, is not what he appears. Mature beyond his years, Stewie is constantly trying to take over his world and, at least very early on in the show, is consumed with the death and destruction of his mother, Lois. It is a classic comedy bit (it really is) where whenever Stewie is finally about to complete construction of his death ray or the like, the reality that he is just a baby sinks in and Lois swoops him up for a diaper change foiling the plot he had worked so hard on. There are no estate planning lessons from attempted murder, but there is in actual murder. In New York there is a Slayer Rule, which layman’s terms states that if you caused the death of a family member, you should not benefit from an inheritance from that death. Sorry Stewie.

3. The Pewterschmidts – As mentioned above, Lois comes from money. Her parents have a mansion and they are not too thrilled with their son-in-law, Peter. They think that she could have done better. Just as was the case with Mr. and Mrs. Thurston Howell, III (see Gilligan’s Island), the Pewterschmidts likely have estate taxable assets which they will need to do extensive estate planning for. For our purposes today though, the lesson is on how they can ensure that their assets benefit their daughter, Lois, while simultaneously making sure that the assets are never Lois’s to give to her husband, Peter. They can create a trust, either during their lives or in their Last Will and Testaments, which would provide that their assets be held in trust and that Lois be the income beneficiary of the trust during her life, that is to the extent that the assets in the trust generate income (rental property, stock dividends, interest). Lois would receive it and be able to live comfortably, and upon her death, the assets would vest with people or charities not named Peter Griffin. I am oversimplifying of course, but, with a little planning, it is amazing how much control one can have over their estate and assets after they are deceased.

Stay tuned for next week’s episode: Family Ties

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.

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