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Ice and Fire and Estate Planning

Who knew a lack of proper estate planning would throw the entire realm into war? That’s the lesson I garner from HBO’s House of the Dragon. If you’re unfamiliar (as I was) with the series, here’s an uber-quick primer to catch you up.


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  • It takes place in the same universe as Game of Thrones. Semi-medieval, very political, heavy on violence and sex. House of the Dragon is set roughly ~200 years before the Game of Thrones timeline
  • The show chronicles the early history of House Targaryen, focusing on the events leading up to and during the Targaryen Civil War (a.k.a. “the Dance of the Dragons”). The series delves into the Targaryen dynasty’s political intrigue, family dynamics, and power struggles.

Turns out, the entire civil war results from poor estate planning. I doubt my or your estate plans would ever be so consequential, but it’s worth learning our lessons (even if they come from a dragon-y fantasy world).

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Where the Problem Starts…

Throughout most of Season 1 of the show, a clear precedent is set:

  • The King, Viserys, is generally liked and respected. He’s sick, though, and growing sicker as he ages. He has no male heirs – a big deal in hereditary monarchy. His wife dies in childbirth.
  • So, before all the important lords and ladies of the realm, Viserys names his one and only daughter – Rhaenyra – as his heir. An unusual choice, but clearly made.
  • Time marches on. Viserys remarries. He has more children – two boys and a girl. In most monarchies, the eldest son is heir to the throne. But Viserys maintains his previous decree: despite having a son, his eldest daughter, Rhaenyra, will remain heir to the throne.
  • More time – 15+ years – goes by. King Viserys…very, very sick…is finally on his deathbed. And thus, the stage is set for drama…
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The Drama

As King Viserys lies dying and drinking “milk of the poppy” (a creative naming of what we’re to believe is an opiate pain reliever), he speaks with his wife, the Queen. Remember, this is his second wife; she is stepmother to Rhaenyra and mother to the King’s sons (who some would argue are the “rightful” heirs to the throne).

Only the Queen is present. The King is high on drugs and in terrible pain.

He manages to speak a few sentences about “the prince that was promised” and “Aegon” and a cryptic suggestion, “…to unite the realm against the cold and the dark. It is you. You are the one. You must do this. You must do this.”

And then he dies. What the heck did that all mean? “Aegon” is a boy’s name. And you guessed it: the King’s eldest son (the Prince who is not the named heir) is named Aegon.

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Whoa. Those are some scary special effects…

Was the King speaking of his son, Aegon? Is young Aegon “the Prince that was promised…to unite the realm?” The Queen certainly thinks so. After all, she’s biased toward wanting her son (not her stepdaughter) to gain the throne.

As viewers, though, we know the King—high as a kite—was, in fact, referencing a centuries-old tale of “Aegon the Conquerer,” a long-dead Targaryen king who prophesied a future cataclysmic war pitting the living (and their dragons) against some undead ice zombies.

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Ice Zombies. Cool.

The Queen doesn’t know this backstory, though. You can’t blame her for thinking, “Prince? Aegon? Unite the realm? Oh – he’s telling me he’s changed his mind! He wants our son, Aegon, to take the throne.” Classic mixup! Could happen to any of us.

The Queen returns to all the courtly leaders with this news: the King, on his deathbed, made clear to me that he wants our son, Aegon, to ascend the throne. Rhaenyra, despite the past ~15-20 years of clearly communicated precedent, is out.

What’s Rhaenyra to think?! She has lived most of her life as the heir to the throne. And then, at the 11th hour, with only one biased witness present, as the King lay high and dying, supposedly he changed his mind? It seems suspicious, no? One could even say it’s a clear foul play.

Thus starts the Targaryen Civil War. Rhaenyra (and her followers) vs. her half-siblings (and theirs).

Lessons for Us

Financial planning is more than investing and taxes. Estate planning is another major component. In short, estate planning answers, “What happens to your assets after you die?”

I doubt any of us have a kingdom to bequeath. Nevertheless, what did the Targaryens get wrong that we should strive to get right?

  • Put it in writing. A clear, legally valid will is essential. It outlines your wishes regarding the distribution of your assets. It can prevent misunderstandings or disputes among your heirs.
  • Designate beneficiaries. Ensure that you have designated beneficiaries for all applicable accounts (like Retirement accounts and insurance policies) and that these designations are up-to-date.
  • Use Clear Language. Be explicit and precise in all estate planning documents to avoid ambiguity. Clearly state who gets what and under what conditions, and consider using legal terms correctly to ensure your wishes are interpreted as you mean them. Work with an attorney to get it right.

This article outlines a further 11-step process to begin your estate plan.

One more vital tip: create a Life File. Your loved ones will thank you.

Family Of Four Walking At The Street

How Estate Planning Can Go Wrong

“House of the Dragon” shows us how estate planning can go wrong.

  • The King’s transition plan was never written down. It was only spoken. If the King can speak it into existence, why can’t he simply speak it away?
  • When creating estate documents (like a will), a person must be “of sound mind.” This is a legal term, and like many legal terms, it exists on a spectrum. But surely most U.S. jurisdictions would maintain that being high on opiates is not “of sound mind.”
  • You should discuss your estate plan (and any changes) with the included (and excluded) parties. Some people might push back on me here, but I think it’s important. When people are included or excluded from your estate, they should know about it while you are still living. Otherwise, it creates a problem after your death, when, by definition, you’re no longer around to solve it. Ideally, the King would have gotten all interested parties – Rhaenyra, the Queen, his second batch of children, etc. – on the same page from Day 1. His drug-addled ramblings would have been more easily dismissed as just that.

Forget the Seven Kingdoms. Our world is riddled with famous stories of contested estates. You don’t want to add your family to that list.

We’ll see how “The Dance of the Dragons” concludes. What a nice euphemism for a firestorm slaughter!

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In the meantime, though, let’s get our own kingdoms in order.

Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this article, join 8000+ subscribers who read my 2-minute weekly email, where I send you links to the smartest financial content I find online every week.


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Jesse Cramer Writer & Financial Planner

Jesse Cramer is the writer of The Best Interest blog, the voice behind The Best Interest Podcast, and works full-time as a fiduciary financial planner for Cobblestone Capital Advisors in Rochester, NY.

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