TV Lessons in Estate Planning: Happy Days

by David A. Kubikian


Season 2, Episode 4

Background: Happy Days was a sitcom that first aired on ABC on January 15, 1974.  The series, which was on the air for 11 seasons, revolved around the Cunningham family in the mid-1950s through mid-1960s.  The Cunninghams lived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and were your normal middle class family.

The Family Tree: Howard and Marion (a.k.a. Mr. and Mrs. C) are the proud parents of Chuck, Richie and Joanie Cunningham.  Chuck is around for only a couple of seasons before disappearing from the show and its credits, only to reappear in its final season.  Richie, played by Ron Howard, the main character on the show, gets phased out after several years himself as he joins the military (he really left to work on his gangbuster directorial career: Splash!, Cocoon, Backdraft, Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind).  The show’s very memorable characters include Richie’s friends: Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli, Ralph Malph and Potsie.

Fun Facts: Happy Days spawned many spin-offs and huge careers.  Mork & Mindy was a spinoff and launched the rocket that was Robin William’s career.  Laverne and Shirley was yet another TV sitcom which was centered in Milwaukee.  Laverne was played by Penny Marshall, who became a big director in her own right (Big, A League of Their Own).  In addition, for the youngish readers out there, long before he was in charge of our days and our nights, Scott Baio (Charles in Charge) played Charles “Chachi” Arcola, the Fonz’s cousin, and boyfriend to Joanie.  Together they spawned the forgettable spin-off, Joanie Loves Chachi.

Estate Planning Angles:

1. Mr. and Mrs. C – Howard and Marion Cunningham were central casting sitcom parents.  Marion was a home maker and Howard was the owner and operator of Cunningham’s Hardware Store.  In 1955, when the show starts, Mr. and Mrs. C are about 35 years old, give or take a few years.  In 2015, the Cunninghams would be in their 90s.  Back in 1955, being 90 was something not seen very often.  Nowadays, it’s far more common to see people live much longer than 90.

The extra decades that have been added to life spans these past generations have resulted in huge increases in the cost of care for the elderly.  Those in their 80s and 90s are dealing with all sorts of issues that make independent daily living impossible at times.  The financial toll is astronomical and can quickly devastate one’s net life savings.

This is why it is so important to discuss long-term care options years before you actually need the care.  With proper planning, you and your partner can be prepared to deal with the large costs of long-term care while simultaneously preserving your assets to pass to future generations.  I am, of course, talking about Estate and Medicaid planning.  We at Herzog believe that information is power and that it is impossible to make the best decisions without the best information.  With that in mind, we offer seminars across the Capital Region and Hudson Valley, at no cost to the public, discussing so many of the options that Mr. and Mrs. C would have both when they were 50 years old to even now when they are in the 90s.

2. Jumping the Shark – There is a saying in pop culture that when a TV show goes a little too far in its story line, either for sweeps week or otherwise, it has “jumped the shark”.  Happy Days is the origin of this expression.  Deep in season five of the show, the Fonz, clad in swim trunks and his signature brown leather jacket, water skis over a shark contained in a tank.  This blog is not one for shark jumping.  While I can extrapolate on all sorts of estate planning angles within show plot lines, no estate planning angle I have provided is itself outrageous.  They are, in fact, all too common.

A few speed round comments:

  • Joanie may love Chachi, but that doesn’t mean her parents do.  Mr. & Mrs. C may want to consider having a Last Will & Testament a la suggested for Archie Bunker to make sure that their daughter’s inheritance always stays in the family.
  • Jumping sharks is not a good idea.  It’s a worse idea to not have a power of attorney.  One false move, on a bike or water ski, or being on the wrong end of an Arthur Fonzarelli right hook, will make you wish you had someone named to act on your behalf in case you can’t.
  • Peach Pit part II.  Last episode, I discussed the importance of businesses having succession planning in place.  In Happy Days, the local hang out, Arnold’s, had two different proprietors for the restaurant due to a change in family structure for the earlier Arnold.  Cunningham’s Hardware Store similarly would need to think about its future.  With Chuck nowhere to be found, Richie off to the army and Joanie with Chachi, there is no clear future for the store.
Stay tuned for next week’s episode: The Simpsons

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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