Wendy and Jen Wreck the Movies – Rain Man (1988)

February 17, 2022 | Wendy Hoey Sheinberg | Jennifer F. Hillman | Trusts & Estates

What happened

Sanford Babbitt, Charlie Babbitt’s estranged father, died. Charlie returns home and finds out he is only receiving a car and prize-winning roses, and that all of his father’s other assets have been left in trust for the benefit of an unnamed individual.

Eventually Charlie finds out he has an older brother named Raymond who has autism and resides in an institutional setting.  Charlie also finds out that Raymond is the beneficiary of his father’s estate.  Charlie then kidnaps Raymond in an attempt to coerce his father’s fiduciary to give him money.  The two embark on a road trip from Cincinnati to Los Angeles when Raymond refuses to fly on an airplane.  Some of the more memorable movie moments occur during this road trip because of Raymond’s insistence on sticking to his routine including watching The People’s Court every day, and his 11:00 p.m. bedtime (We agree that both of those requirements are a necessity!)  Despite some of this levity, Charlie places Raymond in harm and exploits him until finally allowing him to return to the institutional setting where he had been living.

Rain Man, rewritten by Wendy and Jen

On an ordinary afternoon in a sunny nondescript locale, Sanford Babbitt arrives for a meeting with his attorney to discuss estate planning.  Sanford relays his family history to the attorney, including that his wife Elinor predeceased him, and that he has two children who were born about ten years apart:  Raymond who has been diagnosed with autism and Charlie who is neurotypical.  Sanford then relays a heart-breaking story about how when Raymond was 10 years old, he accidently injured Charlie.  After this incident Elinor and Sanford placed Raymond in Wallbrook, a private facility for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities.

According to Sanford, Raymond is turning 24, and he is happy and thriving at Wallbrook.  A social worker at Wallbrook told Sanford he needs to become Raymond’s guardian now that he is over eighteen and has reached the age of majority.  Sanford is genuinely concerned about Charlie, who is now 16 and has been acting out.  Charlie recently stole the family car and continues to display inappropriate behavior even after Sanford left him in jail for a few days to “straighten him out.”

Sanford wants to make sure Raymond can always live at Wallbrook and wants to make sure someone is always there to make decisions for Raymond.  Because of Charlie’s questionable behavior acts, Sanford wants to make sure that Raymond is protected from Charlie and his influence.

Because Raymond has a diagnosis of autism, Sanford can seek to be appointed Raymond’s guardian under SCPA 17-A.  Sanford can also ask the court to designate standby guardians to take over if he is not able to continue as guardian.  If Sanford petitions for guardianship while Charlie is still under 18, Charlie will not have an opportunity to contest the guardianship.

As part of his estate planning, Sanford drafts and funds a revocable trust.  On Sanford’s death the trust continues for Raymond’s benefit, with $50,000 annual distributions to Charlie.  On Raymond’s death (but no sooner than 20 years after Sanford’s death) the trust will be distributed to Charlie.  However, Sanford also puts into place a no-contest or in terrorem clause which states that if Charlie (i) seeks to contest or otherwise set aside the trust and/or Sanford’s will; or (ii) interferes with Raymond’s guardianship, care, or custody, then the annual distributions to Charlie will end and the trust will be diverted from Charlie to Wallbrook when Raymond dies.

After a long and happy life, Sanford dies. The standby guardian petitions the court to confirm his appointment.  Charlie, now an adult, receives notice of the petition.  Charlie also receives a copy of his father’s will and revocable trust.

Charlie’s first instinct is to kidnap Raymond and convince the trustee and the standby guardian to divide the trust equally between him and Raymond.  Charlie’s much smarter and morally evolved girlfriend convinces Charlie to see a lawyer.

The lawyer reviews all of the documents and explains the real world to Charlie:

  1. Kidnapping is a crime;
  2. Extortion is a crime;
  3. Raymond’s guardian is the only person authorized to decide where Raymond will live;
  4. Charlie will be completely disinherited from Sanford’s estate if he contests the Will, the Trust, or the Guardianship (or if he kidnaps Raymond);
  5. If Charlie accepts the estate plan as drafted, and does not interfere with Raymond’s care, he will receive $50,000 a year from the trust;
  6. Charlie will inherit the remainder of the trust in 20 years or when Raymond dies, whichever is later.

It is especially important to work with a knowledgeable trusts and estates attorney when planning for family members with special needs.

Save the drama for the movies.

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