Game of Thrones finale throws up estate planning challenges

From
Anna Hacker

Anna Hacker

(Warning – spoilers ahead)

While the decision about who will sit on the Iron Throne has been well and truly decided in the Game of Thrones (GOT) finale, the estate planning considerations for the various players in the game are not so clear cut, says Anna Hacker, accredited wills and estate specialist with Australian Unity Trustees.

GOT raises some note-worthy points of law about intestacy – that is, how the estates will be distributed if there is no Will, she says.

“Intestacy laws are different from state to state, so it may mean that there are differences between Westeros and Australia, but assuming the laws are similar to those at play in Victoria, there are some interesting estate planning implications.

“From an intestacy point of view, we can assume that Catelyn Stark inherited all on the death of her husband Eddard Stark’s through joint ownership of assets. If the assets were not jointly held, the massacre at the Red Wedding where Catelyn, her eldest son and his wife and unborn child were murdered, would present complications,” Ms Hacker says.

Some lessons for those of us without a Will not living (or dying) in Westeros include:

The 30 day rule

“Generally, if people pass away at the same time, it is presumed that the older one passes away first. In the case of Catelyn and her son Rob, he did not inherit as he needed to survive his parent (Catelyn) by 30 days. The same applies for Rob’s wife and unborn child in relation to his estate,” Ms Hacker says.

“Consequently, when Catelyn passed away, if there was no Will in place, her surviving children – Sansa, Arya, Bran and Rickon – divide her estate between them.”

Estate claims

However, there is always the case of Jon Snow to consider, who may be able to make a claim as the illegitimate son of her husband.

Ms Hacker says Jon could have challenged the distribution from Catelyn’s estate to the other children, as he could say he was a step-child to Catelyn, and a member of the household. Interestingly, as she appeared never to accept him as a step-child, this may have impacted on his ability to challenge.

“However, considering that we later found out he was Catelyn’s nephew by marriage, his claim would be more difficult, at least in Victoria, due to the limits of the categories of possible claimants, of which nephews are not included (but possibly, a member of the household would be, depending on the circumstances).”

When minors inherit

“When the Stark children inherited Catelyn’s estate, it would probably have been held in trust for them until they reached the age of 18 years.

“Perhaps Little Finger would been a suitable “Master of Coin” for the Stark children, although whether he would have been an appropriate independent trustee is another question. A better alternative would be for an independent trustee company – such as Australian Unity Trustees – to step in with this situation.

“When the youngest son, Rickon Stark, later passed away, his portion on the inheritance, which would have still been held in trust, would have gone to his siblings.”

Missing, presumed dead

The situation when some of the Stark children were away from home, and presumed dead, can give rise to the need to deal with their assets so that they are not diminished or negatively impacted. This can either be as a legal administrator presuming they are still alive, or as an administrator of their estate if they have passed away.

“In Victoria, a missing person can be declared dead after a period of seven years has passed, or earlier if investigated by the Coroner.

“In the case of Brandon and Rickon Stark it initially looked as though they had died so it is unlikely that they would have inherited from their mother’s estate, and if they did, their inheritance would be distributed to the other siblings.

“In the case of Arya Stark, who was just missing, it would have been more difficult to prove she had died, so she would have still inherited.”

Inheritance through marriage and the forfeiture rule

“Sansa would have technically inherited from her husband Ramsay Bolton when he died (unless he had a Will in place). Although with the forfeiture rule, you cannot inherit if you are convicted of killing the person. So if convicted of setting the dogs on Ramsay Bolton, technically, she wouldn’t inherit.”

Ms Hacker says Jon Snow shouldn’t feel hard done by if he did miss out on a share of the Stark estate however, as there is the estate of his own family – the Targaryens – to consider.

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