Downtown Abbey’s valuable financial lessons [Financial Perspectives]

Spoiler alert: If you’re a Downton fan, beware that this column might give a few details away.

I spend a lot of time talking with people about financial planning issues, but in reading an article by Kelly Greene in the Wall Street Journal, I realized that lessons can be learned from hit TV shows. In the WSJ article, Greene pointed out that the hit TV show, “Downton Abbey,” offers some lessons for all of us.

Lesson No. 1 has two major points. In the show, the Earl of Grantham invests his wife’s fortune in the stock of a Canadian Railway company.  The company goes bankrupt and the fortune is lost.  As a result, the family has to make plans to sell the family estate. The article relates this situation to families having to deal with what to do with the family home once their parents pass on. The professionals quoted in the article suggest that selling the home can be the wisest thing to do. By doing so, you can avoid some difficult emotional and financial entanglements that can result among the surviving children or other family members. The second major point has to do with not putting all your eggs in one basket. The concentrated investment in one stock can be a big mistake for any investor.

Lesson No. 2 has to do with what one should do when passing control of a family asset.  In this instance, the article discusses how Matthew gifts a significant sum of money to the Earl to save Downton. He does this, however, without specifying what he wants his interest in the estate to be or what role he will assume in its operation.  The corollary to this is a parent who owns a small business and has to decide how to deal with passing this business on to his children. He needs to be very specific about how the children will be involved and what their interest in the business will be.

Lesson No. 3 stresses the need to get a will. The article describes the death of Matthew Crawley at the end of season three, which happens on the day of his son’s birth.  Matthew dies without seemingly making the necessary arrangement to protect his business interests and the needs of his family. The message here is that every couple should get their estate planning documents drafted as soon as they get married; particularly their wills and powers of attorney.

Lesson No. 4 emphasizes the need for an advanced medical directive.  The article describes the premature death of Sybil, who died during childbirth.  The family struggled with how best to treat her condition – treat her at home or take her to the hospital to have surgery that could jeopardize the baby.  They ultimately decided to stay home and she died.  The point here is that everyone should spell out their wishes so that there is no confusion as to how to proceed with treatment should the need arise.  This document should be part of your estate planning package.

The lessons from “Downton Abbey” are as real today as they were in England in the 1920s.  I hope these examples provide some insights that may help you and your family.

Good luck with your planning!

The views expressed are not necessarily those of Cambridge and should not be construed as an offer to buy or sell any security.

Jim Heisler, CFP®, CDFA™, CASL™ Family Wealth Services, LLC 8725 Frankford Avenue Philadelphia, PA 19136 215-332-4968

Jim Heisler is a Certified Financial Planner with Family Wealth Services in Holmesburg. You can read all his Financial Perspective columns here.

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