Tonight, I re-watched “The Descendants”, one of my very favorite movies. It came out in 2011 and stars George Clooney and Shailene Woodley. In 2011, I didn’t have kids and got to see movies in the theater. I saw this one in the theaters twice.
George plays Matt King, a lawyer who is the trustee of a trust that owns a crazy amount of “virgin Hawaiian land” on Kauai. At the time of the movie, he is tasked with deciding whether to sell the land to developers, as his family wants to do, or keep and protect the land (as his ancestors would want him to do). Trusts? Family tension? Money? Death? Legacy? All my favorite stuff. But it gets better!
Matt has two daughters, Scottie and Alex, and a wife, Elizabeth, who seriously injured her head in a boating accident at the beginning of the movie and is now in a permanent unconscious condition (is a vegetable). Prior to her accident, Elizabeth had signed a Health Care Directive that directed her family to withhold life-sustaining treatments if she were in this situation. This has the result of allowing her to die faster without her family having to watch her “like milk spoiling”, as her dad quips…
I talk about Health Care Directives every day—what they do and why they are important. To summarize, if you are in a position where you have no brain function and no hope for recovery (as determined by doctors), YOU can control the situation if you’ve signed a Health Care Directive by stating whether you want to be let go (pull the plug”) or stay on life support and hope for the best. Your family doesn’t have to make that decision for you. (For the record, about 99% of my clients do not want life-sustaining treatments in this situation, which is contrary to state law that keeps you alive indefinitely unless all of your family members unanimously agree otherwise-not an easy task, usually.)
Health Care Directives can be really difficult for my clients to process and, of course, even harder to implement for someone you love. So, a movie about implementing a Health Care Directive doesn’t sound like a lot of “fun”, right? It’s not too much fun, no, but it’s really beautiful, in a way, and so genuine…it gives a perspective on what it is actually like to go through this process with a loved one. It’s sad. It’s painful. It’s relieving. It’s complicated. Most importantly, it’s what Elizabeth wanted. Having gone through this process with many families, including my own, this movie is such a genuine portrayal of this process.
I’m sure comes as no surprise that I always use this movie as an example with clients because it perfectly exemplifies when a Health Care Directive comes into play and why it is so important. It’s also the only time I’ve ever seen the Rule Against Perpetuities actually be an issue (a joke for anyone who went to law school and had to learn about this crazy old law for the bar exam).
If you haven’t seen The Descendants, check it out. You can rent for $3.99 on Prime. It will have a triple-whammy of making you: (1) want to get an estate plan done; (2) want to visit Hawaii; and (3) appreciate your family, no matter how nutty.