Don’t Be Wonky, You Need A Plan

Willy Wonka had a problem. Although he came from very humble beginnings, he had amassed an immense fortune throughout his life as the eccentric founder of the Wonka Chocolate Factory. The fortune itself wasn’t the problem, although the business, and the factory, did require a lot of attention. 

The Oompa Loompas, special employees who kept the factory moving, also required careful supervision, and Wonka felt a deep sense of responsibility for their wellbeing. But Wonka didn’t consider those issues, in and of themselves, to be his real problem, either. Wonka’s problem was that he was nearing the end of his life, and he had not made plans to pass on his fortune (the benefits and the responsibilities) to a younger generation.

In true Wonka fashion, he devised a plan to address that problem. Wonka held a contest to help him select the lucky individual who would take over his business and inherit his estate. The five young contestants were randomly selected, or at least that’s what we are led to believe, by finding golden tickets hidden inside the wrappers of his most famous offering, the Wonka Chocolate Bar. 

Those five contestants were invited to tour Wonka’s factory, which no human besides himself had entered in years. Although they didn’t know it, the tour was full of tests of the contestants’ moral character, and Wonka hoped one of them would pass those tests and show himself or herself worthy of the grand prize, an unimaginable inheritance.

None of the contestants survived Wonka’s tests unscathed, but the actions of one little boy led Wonka to decide he was the one to be trusted to receive the benefits, and to take on the responsibilities, Wonka was preparing to pass on.

Most of my clients do not have the same problem Wonka had; they already have family members in mind whom they want to benefit from their estate plans. And even if they do need some help with that decision, as an estate planning attorney, I do not recommend that my clients host a contest to create a deserving pool of potential beneficiaries. That is not the takeaway from this story. There are, however, some lessons we can pull out of Willy Wonka’s story that apply to the typical family engaged in estate planning.

One thing Wonka got right was that he realized there were individuals who depended on him, and he knew he had to find someone he could trust to look out for them after he was gone. Many of my clients have their own little Oompa Loompas who will need someone to look out for them down the road. In some cases, when these dependents are very young, the discussion will focus on the need to appoint a trusted guardian who will be responsible for those minors’ day-to-day care. 

In some cases, even when the dependents are a little older, the discussion will focus on the need to appoint a trustee who will be responsible for the financial well-being of the beneficiaries until they are old enough to be responsible for themselves and mature enough to manage their own inheritance.

Another thing Wonka got right was that he realized something had to be done before things became desperate. We don’t know Wonka’s age when he hosted his extravagant contest, although he did claim to be much older than he looked. But we do know that he was proactive and that he started taking steps to secure the future of his estate and the safety of those who depended on him before his capacity was diminished. 

In my practice, many different triggers will prompt clients to act. Sometimes it’s the birth of a child, the purchase of a home, or the death of a close family member. In other instances, it takes a major health event or a negative medical diagnosis to scare a client into finally taking action to set up a plan. Wonka didn’t wait until he was unable to take care of things on his own to create a plan, and you shouldn’t either.

Helping our neighbors set up their estate plans to protect their families is one of the most rewarding things we do here at The Elrod Firm. Check out our website, ElrodFirm.com, to learn more, and call today for a no charge consultation to take a solid step in the right direction.