Mary Poppins Returns - a hidden probate message?

Posted by James Greig on
Your stock just went up if you are a balloon-seller, a live-in nanny or a lamplighter!  
"Mary Poppins Returns" is a light-hearted romp of a film which will have been enjoyed by many families over the Christmas period. The villains, unsurprisingly, are members of the banking and legal profession.

Set in 1930s London, twenty-five years after the events of the original film, it sees Mary Poppins, the former nanny of Jane and Michael Banks, returning after a family tragedy.

Following the death of his wife, the now adult Michael Banks is bringing up three children on his own and is struggling to make ends meet.  He believes (wrongly) that his only asset is the family home and has taken out a loan against the property.  When he fails to keep up his instalments, the bank's lawyers come seeking repossession.  Had he known the true extent of his assets left to him by his father, he would not have taken the drastic step of drawing on the equity in his home, which should always be seen as a last resort. 

The criticism of the banking and legal profession is nuanced.  While a certain type of banking (exemplified by Colin Firth's character) squeezes its customers and forfeits goodwill, the old type of banker (exemplified by Dick van Dyke's character) is honest, good at dancing and when it comes to wealth management, delivers real value.  The children's tuppence from the first Mary Poppins film, "wisely invested", has become a small fortune.

What about the lawyers?  [Note - please stop reading now if you haven't seen the film and want to keep the element of surprise.]

Reviews of the film have been mixed, but to my mind, none of them has seen the real message of the film, which is this: Get probate done properly.

Mary Poppins saves the day, but the day would not have needed saving, nor the family house rescuing from repossession, if probate had been done properly.  The significant shareholding in the late Mr George Banks's estate was never transferred into the names of the beneficiaries, and an equally valuable investment account was completely missed.

The good news would have been dampened if the same probate lawyer had reminded the executors of the need to pay inheritance tax at 40% on the newly discovered assets, but, since this is a fantasy, there is no need to make HMRC a villain too, is there?

No, the real winner to my mind, as I left the cinema, was the probate lawyer.  Less glamorous than the balloon-seller or lamplighter perhaps, he or she belongs to an unsung profession who save the day more often than you might think.

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James is the head of our Wills, probate, tax and trusts team based in the Thames Valley.

James Greig
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