Farewell to Downton Abbey – Lessons from Lord Grantham


Lord Grantham didn’t actually visit the “fit-for-modern-day-royalty” North Hill in Stowe, Vermont, just our fabulous art department having a little fun.

Whether you mourn the end of “Downton Abbey”, or if the Granthams efforts to keep their estate didn’t dominate your Sunday evenings, there are some great lessons for today’s families embedded in PBS’ hottest serial.

We turn to our friends at Day-Pitney in Boston, whose estate planning team offers five ways the Granthams could have saved themselves heartache… though perhaps at the expense of our entertainment.

  1. Consider a prenup – “Lord Grantham married Lady Grantham for her money. Once married, Lady Grantham’s wealth was permanently entwined with Lord Grantham’s and became destined to pass to his family’s heir. If Lady Grantham had had the option of entering into a prenuptial agreement, she might have been able to protect her significant fortune from the fate of Downton.”
  1. Start succession planning early – the premise of the series is keyed to the lack of planning around the future of Downton. Unfortunately, we see far too often how the family estate becomes the center of difficult family dynamics through lack of planning.
  1. Seize estate planning opportunities when they arise: “Even in today’s world, a significant life event — a new baby, an unexpected inheritance, administration of a loved one’s estate, a divorce — is what triggers the desire to implement (or update) an estate plan…Had Sybil executed a will or health care proxy while she was healthy, she might have diminished some of the uncertainty and stress her family ultimately endured.”
  1. Use trusts to preserve wealth – “When Lord Grantham’s daughter Sybil married a (gasp!) chauffeur, Lord Grantham grappled with the idea of cutting off financial support to Sybil and her family. What could he have done instead? He could have set up a trust to pass wealth through generations in a manner that protected the assets from creditors (including an ex-spouse), imprudent investment decisions and spendthrift beneficiaries.”
  1. Plan for yourself and your family – because you can!
    “The most important estate planning lesson learned from Downton Abbey may be this: If you can ‘fight the entail’ with your own proactive estate planning, you owe it to yourself and your family to do so.”

Read the full article, written by Jaclyn O’Leary of Day Pitney’s Trust and Estates group.
We are fortunate to work with many families who have taken this good advice to plan for their and their property’s future.

In Lord Grantham’s own words, debating whether to accept a bid from a developer or pursue their own, more sensitive, limited development plan:

“We mustn’t destroy what we’re trying to protect…I intend to expand without destroying. I am going to make a plan.”

What would an American Downton Abbey be like? Ask Stephen Colbert…

For more information on how LandVest can help you make informed decisions, contact
Ruth Kennedy Sudduth, Director, Residential Brokerage.