KING LEAR AND A THOUSAND ACRESâTWO ESTATE PLANNING TRAGEDIES WITH TIMELESS LESSONS FOR MODERN ESTATE PLANNING ATTORNEYS
By Anne M. Rudolph, Esq.* and Ralph E. Hughes, Esq.*
In King Lear, which has been called "the best of all Shakespeare’s plays,"1 and the "most tragic of tragedies,"2 Shakespeare wrestles with humanity’s greatest issues: What is it to be human? What is the meaning of family? What is owed to one’s family? What is owed to one’s father? What is power? What happens when a person loses power? What happens when a person gains power? Are individuals inherently good or evil, or do they change? Does no good deed go unpunished?
In A Thousand Acres, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1992, Jane Smiley wrestled with the same issues in the context of an American family in the twentieth century. The storyline of A Thousand Acres paralleled the storyline of King Lear, but, using the novelist’s omniscient voice, Smiley introduced details of the motivations and actions of her characters that Shakespeare, the playwright, left unexplained.
The unhallowed hands of trusts and estates attorneys should not dare touch any of Shakespeare’s plays, let alone King Lear. Those same hands should generally refrain from commenting on prize-winning fiction. However, we find ourselves drawn to King Lear and A Thousand Acres because – when two great observers of human behavior addressed the same fundamental human questions – each chose to tell the story of an estate plan gone horribly wrong. This, then, is a lawyer’s analysis of two fictional estate plans, with the hope that the analysis reveals lessons that can benefit modern trusts and estates attorneys.