Don't Make Your Burial Plans A Surprise
As a Texan, I have a special place in my heart for the television show King of the Hill. Although its final season wrapped in 2009, you can still catch reruns almost every day. Well, the other day one of my favorite episodes was on; the one where Hank finds out he is the executor of his late father’s estate. As you can probably guess, it’s one of my favorites because it conveys an important message about estate planning.
The title of the episode, “Serves Me Right for Giving General George S. Patton the Bathroom Key,” is a reference to the fact that Hank’s dad, Cotton Hill, has a pretty unusual burial request. He wants Hank to flush him down the toilet Patton used right before he was sent to the front lines during WWII. It turns out all of Cotton’s war buddies were flushed down the same toilet, and Cotton is the last to go, so he must have Hank do it instead of another veteran. The trouble is, the owner of the bar where the toilet is located has had to hire a plumber every time someone is flushed, so he does not want Hank to flush Cotton.
There are two important estate planning lessons that can be learned from this episode. First, don’t put your burial wishes in your will. In another episode of the series, Cotton is desperate to get a plot in a VA cemetery, and when he is successful, the whole family visits it. It is highly likely that in the real world the family would have assumed that Cotton wanted to buried in the plot he fought so hard to obtain.
I have worked with several families that were very upset to discover that they had buried their loved one in the wrong place, or in the wrong way. This is an expensive and very emotionally difficult mistake to fix. The best way to ensure this doesn’t happen to you or your loved ones is to talk about your funeral and burial wishes. Don’t put your plans in your will like Cotton does. As the show accurately depicts, family members often don’t look through the will until quite a while after a loved one’s death.
The second estate planning tip you can glean from watching this episode is the importance of picking an estate administrator that you can trust. With the help of his friends, Hank finds a way to get his father flushed… and then pays for a plumber to come and unclog the toilet. Hank’s determination to do what his father asks him to do in his will (including many other difficult or embarrassing tasks aside from the final flushing) is endearing. He’s really the ideal estate administrator. He’s trustworthy. He’s physically and emotionally capable of doing what is being asked of him, and he takes the responsibility he has been given very seriously.
We should all be so lucky as to have a family member or friend like Hank. And heaven help you if you have someone like Cotton in your life!