Lessons learned from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation Movie – relating to Estate Planning.


Lessons learned from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation Movie – relating to Estate Planning.

Many people have watched this movie, and it is by far one of my favorite Christmas movies. Perhaps you can relate to a character in the movie or you know somebody who reminds you of one of the characters, in a comical way. I believe we can take some lessons from this movie.


Let’s take a look at Clark, the main character. It would seem Clark has some spending problems, when you consider that he writes a check for the backyard pool before he receives his Christmas bonus, without a guarantee of getting a bonus. As it happens, he gets a letter from his boss which was sent to all the staff, telling them the Christmas bonus was cancelled. Essentially, Clark was spending money he didn’t have, and I like to believe most of us would not do that. Perhaps you have a spendthrift in your family? If so, you would need to consider protecting them from potential predators and creditors, and from spending needlessly. The way we would do that is to create a trust for that person, so somebody else has the pen to the checkbook.

Cousin Eddie

Aside from Clark, Cousin Eddie is the biggest spendthrift, having lost the 10 acres of land and selling the house to buy the RV (recreational vehicle) in which the family ends up living. Cousin Eddie refuses to work a menial job, because he has been waiting for a Management position for years. If you have somebody like Cousin Eddie in your world, who would likely not make good decisions, you would not want to leave them an outright inheritance. You could still provide for Cousin Eddie’s wellbeing by creating a trust for him. The money can be used for his healthcare and living expenses but he would not control the checkbook.

In the movie, Cousin Eddie talks about his children, and one can deduce he has two kids from his first marriage, one of whom is his daughter in rehab with addiction problems. He also has 2 younger children, so he has family members who depend on him. Given his elder daughter’s situation, we gather she would need some form of support with her addictions. There would need to be conditions around how she spends the money, by not giving her the pen to the checkbook. In this case, one would assume Cousin Eddie would not have much money to leave for his daughter if he cannot manage his money well.

Second Marriages

Second marriage issues can cause difficulties in Estate Planning. If you are in a second marriage, and you bring your children into the marriage, you often come into the marriage with different financial resources. One spouse likely has more than the other, and often, the husband would want to be able to provide for his wife should anything happen to him. If his wife were to pass away after him, and there is money left as an inheritance, the husband may wish to only leave money for his kids, and not his wife’s kids. If this is the case, there is a ‘tool’ known as a Family Support Trust. It is very popular and is often used for second marriages.


We cannot forget the character Margo, who is Clark’s neighbour. We gather Margo doesn’t like her husband much, keeping him at a distance and having an off-putting vibe. It is likely that she has marital issues too. If you can relate to this, or you know somebody who is in this situation, there are ‘tools’ you can use to protect money from potential divorces.

Recently I met with clients – a happily married couple, who mentioned that their daughter had married somebody who they felt was not right for her. The parents were concerned that the son-in-law would become dependent on their daughter. If they left money for the daughter, they worried she would lose it in a potential divorce. We have a Kids Protection Trust, where the money would go to the trust, and the daughter would have access to use the money. She would not have ownership of the money, but it is protected from the daughter’s issues such as divorce and lawsuits. This is very popular as most people would rather leave the inheritance in a trust, rather than leave it outright. Nobody wants for the money they have worked hard for, to be lost to their kids’ divorce instead of being left as an inheritance for their child.

Aunt Bethany

We can’t ignore the issue of Aunt Bethany and her dementia. While it is humorous to see how Aunty Bethany responds when asked to say Grace before dinner, dementia is not funny. It seems that family gatherings over the holidays are a time when families may notice that an elderly family member is slipping from a cognitive or physical standpoint. Aunt Bethany’s husband Louis is reckless, and he sets the Christmas tree alight when he has a smoke. We have a situation where Aunty Bethany needs help, because Louis is not taking care of her. It is evident that Bethany and Louis need an elder law attorney. They also definitely need a Power of Attorney put in place. There may need to be some asset protection work done, if Bethany goes into a long term care facility.

In our office this would be a Life Care case. On our staff, we have a social worker, Megan who would be able to help clients find the right level of care. From a financial standpoint, we help our clients to avoid going broke.

Frank Shirley

Frank Shirley who is Clark’s boss, cancels the Christmas bonus without telling anybody. One could assume that Frank’s company is in financial trouble. If this is your situation, there is a solution. You need to find out more about the Employee Retention Tax Credit. You can get back money from the IRS if you own a business. There is a chance you may have overpaid on your payroll taxes in 2020/2021. It is a gesture of gratitude by the IRS to companies who kept staff employed during the Covid shutdown. Giving the companies a credit on their payroll taxes is a thank you from the IRS. Many companies are now amending their tax returns for that period to get a credit, which is likely due. If you want to learn more, give me a call on 724 546 4227 and we can tell you more.

Digital Storage is the Way to Go

If you watched the movie, you might recall when Clark gets stuck in the attic. While he is in the attic he finds old family videos that he watches, and reminisces over. Sadly, he did not share these videos with others. If you have family videos on VHS or cassette, I would highly recommend you convert these videos to digital. There are companies who can convert videos to digital format. Once they are digital, you should save them a secure online platform. By doing so, when you pass away, those memories can be shared with family.

I will rush to add that Estate Planning is not just about the finances. Estate Planning incorporates the legacy in the form of digital assets. Sadly, while sometimes family will fight about the money, they are more likely to fight over family heirlooms. That is an easily solvable problem today. Don’t leave photos on your phone – rather save them to the cloud. If something happens to you or you lose your phone, your photos may be lost or not be easily retrieved.

Come to Our Workshop

If you would like to learn more about Estate Planning generally, please come to one of our upcoming workshops. We have so many free resources on our website which provide you with education. There are blog articles, videos and free pdf ebooks. We are an education-first law firm, because by providing this information, you will hopefully make good decisions. Visit sechlerlawfirm.com and under the Resources tab you will find lots of valuable information.