I'm currently recovering from unexpected surgery – I spent the Labor Day weekend (and a few days after) in the hospital having my gall bladder removed. I'm trying to use this as an opportunity to rest and relax, but I'm always drawn to entertainments that feature inheritance, Wills, trusts, and the like. I've been working my way through the British television series "Downton Abbey." The entire first season (7 episodes) is available via Netflix streaming; season 2 comes to the U.S. early next year. (The trailer for season 2 is here.) The story takes place beginning in 1912, and involves Lord Grantham, his family (wife and three daughters), and the servants who work at his stately home, Downton Abbey. The home is the subject of an "entail." Basically, an entail is a method of devising property such that it "stays within the family." One method might be to pass the property only to the male descendants of the family; if there are none (as in the case of Lord Grantham, who had only daughters), then more distant (male) family members must be brought in. This is the case with "Downton Abbey." When the series opens, we learn that the male family members next in line to inherit (Lord Grantham's first cousin and his son) have died on the Titanic. As a result, a distant relative — Matthew Crawley, a lawer — becomes next in line. He would inherit the property (and, for some reason, the property of Lord Grantham's American wife) upon Lord Grantham's death. In episode 2, Matthew and his mother come to live near the Grantham's. Matthew scandalizes the family (especially Lord Grantham's mother, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, wonderfully played by Maggie Smith), by taking a job at a local law firm: They need someone who understands industrial law, I'm glad to say. Although I'm afraid most of it will be Wills and conveyancing. In episode 4, the Dowager Countess of Grantham hires Matthew and asks him to research whether the entail can in fact be broken. (I would assume that this is a type of Will contest, to overturn the provision creating the entail.) Bit of a conflict of interest, isn't it, given the fact that breaking the entail will mean Matthew receives nothing? This is probably one case he shouldn't take on.
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