01/03/2012

George Clooney's New Movie Offers an Informative Look at the Importance of Pre-Planning and Estate Administration

It is not a subject matter you would expect Hollywood to address – the issues surrounding advance healthcare directives and trust administration.

The movie is called “The Descendants” and it takes place in Kauai, Hawaii.   The opening scene introduces us to the main character, Matt King, played by George Clooney who finds it ridiculous that people assume life is perfect because you live in paradise.  However, as the movie progresses, we find that Matt King’s life is far from ideal or perfect. 

Matt’s wife, Elizabeth King, suffered a head injury in a speedboat accident.  She is comatose in a hospital, and the doctor tells Matt that she is never expected to recover.  We watch Matt as he receives the news from the doctor that keeping his wife on life support is not warranted.  The doctor tells him that he must follow his wife’s wishes as stated in her Advance Health Care Directive and take her off life support.

Matt, as his wife’s agent on her Advance Health Care Directive is responsible for making the decision of when treatment will end.  Matt first tells his oldest, rebellious daughter that his mother is not expected to recover and that he must take her off life support.  He enlists the help of his oldest daughter to help him tell Elizabeth’s parents and her friends.

Matt visits Elizabeth’s father and mother and her father states that of course Elizabeth would have prepared an Advance Health Care Directive because she is such a good person and responsible.  We watch as Elizabeth’s father takes out his frustration and anger on Matt.  Elizabeth’s mother is a victim of Alzheimer’s disease so she is unable to comprehend or understand what has happened to her daughter.  We watch as Elizabeth’s father says goodbye to his daughter.

Next, Matt with the help of a social worker informs the younger daughter that her mother is not going to recover.  We witness the raw emotion and pain of this revelation, as the younger daughter tries to grapple with the reality that her mother will never recover.

Matt then has a meeting with all of Elizabeth’s friends.  As the movie explains, “Elizabeth had a big life with a lot of friends.”  Matt gently tells her friends that she will be taken off life support and that they should say goodbye to her.

However, there is one person that Matt wants to tell, even though it causes him a tremendous amount of pain.  It is revealed that Elizabeth was having an affair with a realtor.  Matt feels that this man has a right to know about Elizabeth’s condition.  After several days, Matt finally tracks down this man and tells him about Elizabeth’s situation.  It causes him much pain, but he feels that it is the right thing to do.

Elizabeth is taken off life support and we watch as she slowly dies.  In the final moments, Matt is the last person with his wife.  He is able to tell her that he loves her, one last time. 

Concurrently, Matt is faced with the pressures of running his law practice, and administering his family’s massive estate.  It turns out that Matt is the sole trustee of a family trust which includes land owned by his family dating back to the 1860’s.  As the sole trustee, Matt is forced to make a decision about what to do with the trust’s 25,000 acres that it owns on the island of Kauai.  There is even more added pressure on Matt, as it seems that the whole state of Hawaii is following his decision.  Matt is torn between selling the property to developers or preserving it for future generations.  The beneficiaries of the trust have different opinions about whether the land should be sold or preserved.   Matt is attempting to gain input from all the beneficiaries, as he has decided to hold family meetings and take a vote regarding whether to sell the property or not.  However, he must make a decision soon as the trust document only allows the land to be held in trust for a certain number of years.  This is the first time that I have ever heard the term Rule Against Perpetuities used in a film! 

As Matt moves through his life as an attorney, a father of two girls, the grieving husband, and the over-worked trustee, I felt his struggle and heartache.  The movie did an excellent job of addressing the heartache that results when a loved one is in a comatose state, and stressing the importance of pre-planning.

The Director, Alexander Payne is known for delving into difficult and complicated human relationships.  In one of my favorite movies, Sideways, Payne also captured raw, human emotion in a thought-provoking way.  Payne also directed the movies About Schmidt and Election.

I wholeheartedly recommend this movie.  It was insightful, emotional and a tear-jerker (don’t forget your tissues!)   The Descendants is my favorite movie of the year, and I believe it will be a major Oscar contender.

The Descendants Movie Trailer:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CWHNXJ1K4yA

The Descendants Official Website:  http://www.foxsearchlight.com/thedescendants/