Movie Lessons in Estate Planning: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

By David A. Kubikian


Special Edition:  Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory


Earlier this week, the world lost one of its classic cinematic comedians.  Gene Wilder, the lead in comedy hall of fame movies Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles passed away after a long fight with Alzheimer’s.  Instead of a TV show edition, we felt compelled to honor Mr. Wilder by discussing a movie that so many people grew up with and know so well.

Background: In 1971, the children’s book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” by Roald Dahl was adapted into a major motion picture with a slightly different name.  The movie starred Gene Wilder as the title character, mysterious chocolate factory owner Willy Wonka.

The Family Tree: Willy Wonka’s family tree is as mysterious as he is.  Because of the premise of the book and film, (spoiler alert) that he is trying to find a child to take over his factory by first showing them his factory and its secrets and testing their ability to follow instructions and not give secrets to creepy Mr. Sluggworth, we’ll assume that Mr. Wonka has no family.  It is unknown whether he ever adopted any of those Oompa Loompas that are making his chocolate.  In terms of the five contestant children, Augustus Gloop, Violet Beauregarde, Mike TeeVee, Veruca Salt and Charlie Bucket, all but Charlie go into the factory with their respective mother or father.  Charlie, who lives at home with his mother and both sets of grand-parents brings his surprisingly spry Grandpa Joe.

Plot: After years of his competitors trying to steal his factory secrets, famed chocolate maker Willy Wonka closed his factory doors and got rid of all of his human employees.  Despite no workers, the factory still made lots and lots of chocolate.  Years later, Wonka commenced a worldwide contest where five random chocolate bars would contain a golden ticket allowing that person to get a private tour of the factory.  The winners can bring one other person with them for this once in a lifetime opportunity.  A who’s who of bad parenting end up winning the tickets with Augustus and Mike (with their respective mothers) and Violet and Veruca (with their respective fathers) win their tickets and are wooed by chocolate competitor Mr. Sluggworth to steal Wonka’s secrets.  Charlie wins the final golden ticket which works out since he was the main character of the book.  What were the chances?  The contestants and their guardians all go in to the factory and antics ensue  Specifically and as efficiently as I can state, schnozberries taste like schnozberries, Augustus almost drowns in a river of chocolate, Violet turns violet, Mike shrinks to TV size and Veruca goes out with the bad eggs.  That leaves Charlie who with Grandpa Joe, got into a mess of their own with fizzy lifting drink resulting in their disqualification from Wonka’s business succession plan contest they didn’t even know they were in, that is until Charlie returns to Wonka the one thing Mr. Sluggworth wanted the most, the legendary “everlasting gobstopper”.

Estate Planning Angles: 

1. I SAID GOOD DAY!!! – Willy Wonka was getting up there in age.  Years and years of trying to keep his chocolate secrets secret apparently took its toll on him and he wanted to find a successor.  Unfortunately, his contest yielded him four awful kids who wouldn’t listen and likely would have sold him out by giving the secret of his gobstopper to Mr. Sluggworth.  They would have been bad candidates to take over the factory.  Mr. Wonka did not have family members ready willing and able to take over and he did not have any business succession plan other than randomly trying five people who happened to open the right bar of chocolate.  No resumes.  No References.  Seems like an awful way to find a successor to your business. 


        I do not know anyone who owns a chocolate factory but I do know a lot of people who own their own business.  I know that they work their tails off and that the last thing they would want is for their hard work to go to waste.  That is where business succession comes into play.  Whether it’s a sole proprietorship or an LLC or S Corp, you need to have a plan for how the business continues, if it continues.  Does your spouse get your ownership interest? Your kids? Do they want it? Would they do a good job?  What do your business partners think about it?  Is there a buy-out price in the event of a death?  People so often do not plan for success.  The time to do that is when you start your business at the same time, it’s never too late to amend your documents to reflect the wishes of you and your partners. 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.


2. Four Grandparents, One Bed – Charlie Bucket lived in a very very modest home and both sets of his grandparents shared the same bed.  They were old and bed ridden.  Charlie’s mom presumably worked and cooked and cleaned and helped the grandparents any way she could.  If she walked into our office, we would suggest that she looking into Medicaid and specifically, “Community Medicaid”. 


Community Medicaid can provide those that qualify with home health care aids who essentially are paid by Medicaid.  In order to qualify you need to be below certain resource levels but unlike Medicaid coverage in a nursing home, Community Medicaid does not involve a dreaded 5 year look back period.  More and more people want to age in place, that is staying and enjoying their home and surroundings for as long as possible.  Community Medicaid, a program that most people just don’t know about, can make that hope a reality while taking the pressures off family members who in addition to working full time are taking care of an elderly loved one.  As always, the rules for Medicaid, are far more specific and fact sensitive than this blog will allow.  The key is that you know that your elderly relatives have options and the should get informed and take advantage of free consultations we offer to get that information.

3. Veruca at 18 – Augustus Gloop, Violet Beauregarde, Mike TeeVee and Veruca Salt were all brats.  Their parents should be ashamed of their behavior at the factory and I hope the learned valuable lessons about listening, sharing, and among other things, not drinking directly from chocolate rivers, which is not only impolite but it seems a bit unsanitary.  They kids were minors and perhaps we can chalk their behavior to their age.  Or maybe not.  I often say that the only thing worse than a 12 year old with money it is an 18 year old with money.  Why? A 12 year old will have a guardian of some sort in charge of their money.  That guardianship or custodianship however ends at age 18.  Imagine what Veruca would do with a lot of money and no one able to legally tell her no.  Put language in your will that says no one will receive their inheritance until they turn 25 or 30 even later. 

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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