Wendy and Jen Wreck the Movies: Life As We Know It (2010) or Why Your Fraternity Brother May Not Be Suitable for Carpool

June 16, 2022 | Jennifer F. Hillman | Wendy Hoey Sheinberg | Trusts & Estates

What Happens?

In a twisted psychological experiment, Allison and Peter Novak set up their friends Holly Berenson and Eric Messer (a/k/a Messer) on a date.  Holly and Messer are as incompatible as pineapple and New York pizza, and the matchmaking experiment predictably tanks.  The Novaks cannot leave well-enough alone, they double down and pull an unsuspecting baby into the mix. The Novaks name Holly and Messer as joint guardians of their baby daughter Sophie…and… wait for it ……………… they neglect to ask Holly or Messer if they want to be guardians.  Actually, the Novaks don’t even tell Holly or Messer that they have named them as Sophie’s guardians.

Then Allison and Peter die (but we honestly think they faked their deaths in order to observe their subjects in this wacky experiment).

Shockingly, the now deceased, Peter Novak was a lawyer who must have slept through law school, the bar exam and every movie ever made if he believed it is a good idea to secretly designate people as guardian of a baby.. 

The Novak’s decision was such a terrible choice that even Messer says, “they didn’t think this through.”  Cringes, angst, and hilarity ensue in the movie as the mismatched pair awkwardly fumble their way as guardians of Sophie.

What Is Wrong?

EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING IS WRONG, you don’t randomly leave your dog at someone’s house without asking and you NEVER, EVER, EVER leave your child’s care and well-being (not even your least favorite child) to someone without discussing it with them.

What Should Have Happened?

Peter and Allison Novak are expecting their first baby.  Allison tells her best friend Holly, who is overjoyed and wisely tells Allison that she and Peter need to see an attorney to put their affairs in order.  Allison values Holly’s opinion, and one bright shiny day after Sophie’s birth, Allison and Peter meet with Wendy and Jen.  Peter and Allison say that they need a thoughtful plan for Sophie’s care if something happens to them.

Wendy and Jen tell the Novaks that New York allows parents to name guardians of minor children in a Will.  Parents can also designate standby guardians to take care of their minor children during life in the event an illness or accident (“triggering event”) renders the parents unable to care for their children.  A properly designated standby guardian can begin taking care of the child as soon as a triggering event occurs.  The standby guardian must petition the family court or the surrogate’s court for judicial appointment as guardian but can take care of the child while the full guardianship proceeding is pending in the court.

The Novaks tell Wendy and Jen that they have been arguing for days because they each want their own best friend to be the designated guardian.  The Novaks also confess that they think they accidently named Peter’s second cousin as Sophie’s guardian when they were strong-armed into asking her to be Sophie’s godmother.  Wendy and Jen relieve the Novaks fears and explain that while Sophie’s religious education may be entrusted to Peter’s second cousin, her guardianship is not.

Wendy and Jen also tell the Novaks that selecting a guardian is not the same as picking a road buddy for a gap year road trip or a popularity contest – you pick the person best able to do the job, not the person you most want to do a keg stand with.

Wendy and Jen ask the Novaks more questions about Holly and Messer.  Messer is great with money and Holly is organized, grounded, and loves Sophie more than air.  Together the Novaks conclude that Holly should be guardian of Sophie’s person with physical custody of Sophie.  The Novaks also decide that Messer should be guardian of Sophie’s property and the trustee of her trust.  The Novaks plan means that Sophie would live with the person best suited to take care of her. The plan also means that a separate independent person would be in charge of Sophie’s money and be able to provide for her well-being without the risk of self-dealing.

After congratulating each other on such a smart (and mature) solution, they all lived happily ever after…even Peter and Allison.

Parents of minor children need to plan for their children’s future well-being just in case something unexpected happens.  Your children are everything, even when they get sticky and loud and make you do common core homework.  A knowledgeable trust and estate practitioner can ease your worries and help put a thoughtful plan in place.

Save the drama for the movies.

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