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HBO's Succession and Estate Planning Tips

HBO's hit show Succession chronicles the intertwined business and family drama of a high profile media family. The characters may be billionaires but the estate planning elements of the show are a reality for anyone doing succession planning.

The series revolves around the Roy family, which owns the biggest media, entertainment, and tourism conglomerate in the world. The satirical drama begins with the company's infamous founder and patriarch, Logan Roy, as he announces he is stepping down as CEO.

Roy takes it upon himself to test his children to see who is best suited to be his successor. Between the media mogul and his powerhungry family there are a plethora of wills and estates issues we can learn from.

1. Choosing a Power of Attorney

At one point in the show, Logan becomes very ill and ends up in a coma (that classic TV plot device).

The coma results in Logan's second wife, Marcia, being left in charge. The family is sent into a panic and questions "what will happen to the company?" As Logan's children each make their attempt to discuss succession plans with Marcia, she gives no indication of a plan and keeps them away from their father.

Even as Logan regains consciousness, Marcia, in the name of his health, keeps them away. At this point, the Roy clan and viewers start to question if Marcia was ever explicitly named Power of Attorney.

When choosing a POA consider the following:

  • Who you trust
  • Family dynamics
  • Age and capability to make difficult decisions

Whether you're planning for someone to make decisions about your health or your property, it's important to choose the right person. And if someone is claiming to have power of attorney over someone, it's important to verify that they actually have this authority.

Here's a helpful article explaining the types of POAs in Canada, read it here.

2. Capacity

Throughout both seasons of the show, family members have questions about Logan Roy's capacity -- are his dramatic decisions the result of a change of heart, old age, or maybe even coercion?

In the second season, we see more of Logan's scheming as he continues his search for a successor. He consults Rhea Jarrell, an advisor to another media company, and his family instantly questions the surprising new confidant.

His children are wary about her ulterior motives and question their father's sudden trust in her (they even suggest they are having an affair). They speculate that he has reduced capacity and is being taken advantage of by Rhea.

Consider capacity issues when succession planning:

Capacity is a complex legal topic, that may require medical experts. When doing succession planning, it's important to be clear and specific to avoid disputes.

3. Changes to Your Will

Whether he's at a board meeting or a family meeting, Logan makes a habit of announcing major change to his estate plans. Like when he decides to fire, replace, or demote family members in the company.

These decisions are usually accompanied by a dramatic score and result in at least two family members becoming upset.

Keep your will up to date

While we don't endorse pitting your family members against each other in a contest for your estate, it's good practice to keep your will updated and to communicate these changes with the relevant people (e.g. your chosen executors).

Changes requiring a new will might include children, marriage, divorce, or deaths in the family.

4. The Importance of a Will

As fun as it is to watch the Roy siblings bicker and plot against one another onscreen, this is notably less entertaining when it's your own family.

Most of us would hope that our succession plans don't result in family conflict or litigation.

Have a clear, well-drafted will

Having a well-drafted will can make life a lot easier for your family. It can prevent unnecessary fighting, threatened and filed lawsuits, and can minimize the tax burden paid by your esate.

While Succession makes for good television, if you're hoping for a smoother state of affairs, then it's best to work with a lawyer who will ask the right questions, take good notes, and can help you prepare an estate plan that's right for you.

Ensure your will can be found when it is needed and register it with the Canada Will Registry.