In our ‘Oh, Really?’ feature, the Biederman Blog’s editors — voracious consumers of all matters pop culture — cast a curious, skeptical, fanciful, fun, and smart end-of-the-week eye on popular productions, sharing their keen observations about legal matters these raise.
House of Cards, the Netflix Original series and political thriller has launched into its sixth season, despite doubts of its return due to a giant #MeToo scandal and Kevin Spacey’s ouster after sexual misconduct allegations. Netflix parted ways with Spacey, also hoping to redirect the focus of its high-flying series.
But the U.S. Nielsen ratings for the first episode of season six indicates the show was watched by 2.9 million viewers, as compared to 4.4 million viewers for the comparable program in season five. Has the critically acclaimed House fallen down due to its off-screen drama, or can its plot twists still grab major audiences?
The high-gloss series, set in Washington, D.C., and revolving around the rise of the Underwood clan led by Frank and Claire, takes a turn in its final season, with the demise of President Frank (Spacey), leaving his VP wife Claire (Robin Wright) to step up. And as she struggles to keep her grip on power without bringing to light all of their criminal acts, the show raises questionable legal situations, particularly related to wills and prenuptial agreements.
To undermine Francis’s handwritten (holographic) will, composed before his death and bequeathing all his property to Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly), his right-hand man, Claire suddenly reveals she is pregnant.
“Whatever Francis left you, it doesn’t actually belong to you,” the wrathful Mrs. tells Doug off. “We entered our marriage with a his, hers, and ours agreement — you keep it, do whatever you want with yours, and I keep it and do whatever I want with mine. My dad and mother insisted as you can imagine. But the prenup we had, had a clause. If ever we had descendants together, and one of us is first to die, we agree to waive our rights to everything passed on. By which I mean all of Francis’s assets are entitled to his heir, if he should have one.”
She then shows him her protruding abdomen and declares in triumph to Dough: “Francis and I have been blessed.”
Well, Oh, really! viperous Madame President. How certain can you be that Francis’s holographic will would be invalidated in a genuine legal action?
This claim is likely to be false, as Claire would be clearer about had she taken wills, trusts, and estates in a proper law school, rather than earning degrees in chemistry and environmental and public health at that East Coast joint — what’s it called, um, Harvard?
A sounder legal analysis of her fact pattern would find that, if the terms of their prenup conflict with Francis’ last will, a probate court has the option to uphold the prenup — unless the beneficiary can show the prenup was created under duress.
In this case, however, the beneficiary is an unborn child and not Claire — so she could not argue duress to invalidate the agreement.
Ultimately, in reality, a decision like this would be left the probate court to decide, and Claire’s standing as commander-in-chief and chief law enforcement officer of the land would matter not.
Depending on the specific provisions of the prenup, Claire’s sudden and seemingly convenient pregnancy could work against her wishes in ensuring Doug never sees a penny from Francis’ estate.
With Hollywood and Washington seeming to merge tighter by the day in their conduct, interests, and public actions, politicians — even imaginary ones like Frank and Claire — might look to the entertainment industry to see that not only is savvy legal counsel needed on business but also big personal matters. Politicians could see how maybe they just might need to think someday about their post-mortem rights — if they have any? They certainly should scrutinize their wills, trusts, and estates, including with specialized legal advisors working with them hand-in-hand, as perhaps hasn’t occurred sufficiently with some of entertainment’s shiniest stars?
Of course, in the case of POTUS, 26 of the 44 men who have served in this nation’s highest office (for real) have been lawyers, with the current occupant unusual for his lack of legal training and time in any elected position. Presidents, like Claire, would typically retain, and have the resources to see, notable practitioners in an array of legal specialties to assist them. Let’s see if Madame President Underwood will do the same, or will she find some other nefarious way to keep her claws in perks of office that include: a $400,000 annual salary, a country home, personal plane, helicopter, post-presidency pension, $50,000 annual expense account, $100,000 nontaxable travel account, and $19,000 for entertainment, not to mention the comforts of the White House.