'The Descendants' Buries Estate Planning Lessons in George Clooney Drama
by Deborah L Jacobs Forbes (excerpts)
To most viewers, estate planning themes are secondary to the film’s other dramas. But it turns out that the legal issues were painstakingly developed and fact-checked. On location in Hawaii in March, 2010 to get the lay of the land and soak up its culture, Alexander Payne, the director, consulted Randall Roth, a professor at the University of Hawaii School of Law and a nationally known trusts and estates expert.
Roth, who hails from Kansas, is a 30-year resident of Hawaii and happens to be an authority on land trusts in the state. He’s the co-author of “Broken Trust,” a book about the mismanagement and political manipulation of America’s largest charitable trust. With private land trusts, he says, there’s often a tension, as there was in The Descendants, about whether to pave paradise and convert a land-rich/cash-poor trust to a highly profitable venture.
Still, Roth’s understanding was that Payne “didn’t want to make a documentary and didn’t want something so precise that it would destroy the tone or the emotional pacing” of the film. (Payne was not available for comment.) Roth says he spent about six hours — not counting the time it took to read the book — making notes, talking and exchanging e-mails with Payne. He says he wasn’t paid for these efforts, but “thoroughly enjoyed the experience and was thrilled” when Payne gave him a screen credit.
The author, Hemmings, also had some exposure to land battles. She’s a descendant of George Norton Wilcox, who owned Grove Farm—Hawaii’s first sugar plantation—and left it to his nieces and nephews when he died in 1933. After 100 years in the family, in 2000 the plantation was sold to Steve Case, the former CEO of AOL.
Hemmings, who was in college at the time, remembers her grandfather–a judge–strongly opposing the sale, but admits that estate planning isn’t her subject. (In fact, she’s the mother of two young children but doesn’t have a will.) “It was my parents’ and my grandparents’ world,” says Hemmings, 36. “I’m just writing about all my elders.”
read … Grove Farm
Also: ‘Descendants’ Book Author Recalls Working With Clooney