TV Lessons in Estate Planning: The Simpsons

by David A. Kubikian

Season 2, Episode 5

Background: The Simpsons is an animated sitcom that first aired on FOX on December 17, 1989. The series, which has been on the air for the last 27 (TWENTY-SEVEN!!!) seasons, revolves around the Simpson family and their friends and neighbors in Anytown, USA a.k.a Springfield.

The Family Tree: Homer and Marge are the parents of Bart, Lisa and Maggie. As a 35-year-old, my mind cannot wrap itself around the idea that people do not know the fundamentals of The Simpsons. After 27 years and hundreds of storylines however, the family tree is actually a little more intricate. Homer is the son of Abe Simpson and Mona Simpson. He has a log lost brother, Herb. Marge is the daughter of Jackie and Clancy Bouvier. She has sisters, Patty and Selma. Selma has an adopted daughter, Ling.

The cast of characters and the amount of celebrity cameos in The Simpsons is legendary. A book can be written about all of the estate planning angles and there will likely be several parts to this story over the next few “seasons” of this blog.

Fun Facts: The Simpsons started as an animated short on The Tracey Ullman Show on HBO in 1987. The Oxford English Dictionary has added Homer’s “Doh” (sans apostrophe) to its listings. The most frequent guest voice-over in the history of the show is Phil Hartman, despite the fact that he passed away eighteen years ago.

Estate Planning Angles:

1. Simpsons 101 – As we all know, if you die in New York without a Last Will & Testament there is a statutory scheme for how your estate is to be divided. If you die with a spouse and kids, $50,000 + 1/2 of the probate assets go to your surviving spouse with your children splitting the remaining non-probate assets.

For the Simpsons, even though they are of relatively modest means, Homer’s demise would result in Marge receiving roughly 1/2 of the estate and the kids each splitting the remaining 1/2 for 1/6 a piece. The Simpson kids have been the same age for just about all 27 seasons, so chances are they will be minors for the foreseeable future. That means that a lot of Homer’s estate would be in the name of the kids instead of Marge. Marge cannot use the kids’ inheritances for her own needs. Of course, if and when the kids do get older and eventually turn 18, they are no longer minors and they will be able to access all of their inheritance. Bart Simpson probably should not have a lot of money at age 18. A will alleviates these issues by containing a provision that states everything to your spouse and a second provision providing for money to be held in trust for children (if spouse predeceases) with a much more reasonable schedule for inheritance. Perhaps 25% at age 22, 25% at age 25 and the balance at age 30 would be the right move.

2. Release the Hounds – Montgomery Burns is one of about a dozen unforgettable The Simpsons characters. He is a central casting gazillionaire. Always looking to get richer, whether it be by sticking it to the workers at his nuclear power plant (figuratively) or blocking out the sun in order to blackmail Springfield (literally), he is always up to something. The only real family that Mr. Burns has is his very affectionate right hand man, Waylon Smithers. Mr. Burns did father a child, but gave the child up for adoption (or so says Wikipedia).

Unmarried and with no children (a child being adopted by another removes the biological parent from being considered a parent for inheritance purposes), Mr. Burns’ vast fortune would pass to his parents, then his siblings, then his grandparents, first cousins and so on. As old as he is, it is quite possible that Mr. Burns’ estate, if he had no Last Will & Testament, could pass to so called “laughing heirs” (people who inherit from people they did not even know), or even, gulp, New York State. This assumes, of course, that Springfield is in New York.

The State could use the money, but Mr. Burns would be wise to do some estate planning to give a little something to Smithers, attempt, to the extent possible, to avoid estate taxes, and to give to eeeexcellent charities.

3. Krusty the Clown – Krusty the Clown is your typical green-haired TV star, fast food icon and overall diva of a clown. Born Herschel Shmoikel Pinchas Yerucham Krustofski, Krusty is one of the main supporting characters in The Simpsons. He is a TV clown with a hit show and is idolized by Bart, Lisa and their friends. He is constantly trying to maximize his assets by plugging and merchandizing anything and everything. He spends lavishly and as a result, the merchandizing snowball gets bigger and bigger.

Krusty is a good example of someone whose business is bigger than he is. Usually it’s the opposite. Typically, a person who creates a business is the most important asset that the business has. If a plumber passes away, for example, it’s likely that his business may not be able to run anymore. Consider, on the other hand, singers like Michael Jackson, actors like Robin Williams, and artists like Georgia O’Keefe. These are all examples of people who had assets that existed well beyond their deaths and continue to this day.

You do not need to be a pop star or movie star to need to plan for the future of your business when you pass away. We often spend so much time building a business that we do not remember to plan for its eventual success. Dentists, lawyers, manufacturers, authors, etc. all have differing levels of assets in their respective businesses independent of themselves. Lawyers may have books of business hundreds deep. Dentists, some very expensive equipment. Authors may have future royalties and manufacturers may have large payrolls and larger accounts receivable.

The question is: does your business continue or does it get liquidated? Do you have heirs to the business? Do you have partners? Can it be managed by third parties with your family maintaining ownership?

It is important to make sure you know your options with respect to business succession planning in order to make sure your family may maximize the value that your business can provide to them after you are gone.

Stay tuned for next week’s episode: The Brady Bunch

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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