Sunday, January 12, 2020

Probate Movie Review: Knives Out

Image result for knives outWarning, LIMITED spoilers. No real plot spoilers.

Maybe I'm late to the game, but I just saw this, so now you get my review.

When I first saw the preview for Knives Out, I thought it was Clue: Part 2.  It was not, but it might as well have been, and they even referenced Clue in the movie. Either way,  a spiritual sequel with James Bond, Captain America, Michael Myer's Mom, Zod/Nelson Van Alden, James Crockett..(and more) was worth a watch.

Anyway, it turned out to be a movie about probate. So here we are.

Well, rather predictably in hindsight, when a rich old man who is a benefactor to his family of leaches dies, the vultures will circle. When things don't go as planned...things get nasty.

What the movie got right:

    Image result for Knives out will reading scene
  1. Ways to Contest a Will: Undue influence, which means someone else overpowered they mind of the person making the will. Lack of capacity, which means they didn't know what they were doing, and there is a legal argument to say they were not in a state to execute complex legal documents, like a will. 
  2. Renouncing inheritance: Yes, you can do that. Normally its just for tax reasons though. 
  3. Slayer Statute: More common in life insurance, but same applies for wills and others if your state has it. You can't kill someone and then benefit from it. I think most folks would agree this is a fair rule. See the text here.
  4. Reading of the Will: They do it in the movie (see picture), but even they say, this really never happens. I wish it would, it would make things more interesting. 

What the movie got wrong:

  1. The Will itself: Shockingly, the old man changes his will! This he could do. However, the quick glimpse in the movie shows a one page letter looking document, without any witnesses. The movie is purportedly in Massachusetts, and Massachusetts requires wills to be witnessed Now, there is an exception, saying that if the will was valid somewhere else where it was written, it can be valid in Massachusetts, but the paper was typed, not handwritten (or holographic), so I'm not sure how it would have been valid anywhere. Kinda sloppy, Rian Johnson. 
  2. The Aftermath of a Will that Disinherits Folks: In reality (and sometimes these make for great cinema), when a completely valid will goes off the rails and leaves the old man's money to someone who isn't the family, lawsuits happen. They usually settle, even if one side has all the good facts. If they don't, its expensive, and lawyers make a decent chunk of the pie. 

 Knives out was good. Not 97% on rotten tomatoes good, but definitely worth a watch.  I give it 74%, which is still really good, just not all time good.  They should have called John Grisham, or any probate lawyer, to clean up a few little wrinkles in the facts, but that doesn't mean the broad strokes weren't there. Like drama? Want to have your family feuding after your gone? You can do it on purpose, or you can prevent it. Knives out highlights just that. 

PS: I'm sure someone else somewhere has written about this, seeing as the movie has been out for a while.  I spent a couple minutes on google and only saw a cursory review, so I did my own.