Betty Draper Finds Estate Planning "Selfish and Morbid"


*Spoiler alert!* If you’ve not yet caught up to AMC’s “Mad Men” Season 3 Episodes 4 & 5 please don’t read ahead!

Over the seasons, we have grown to know and love each of the characters on AMC’s fabulous original series, “Mad Men,” despite each of their foibles. The characters are so deep they manage to elicit layers of emotions from us loyal viewers. Betty Draper pretty much epitomizes “the problem with no name” of her generation, which leads to both great sympathy and much frustration. It is hard, however, to feel much but discomfort when she so desperately insists on still being her daddy’s little girl while being so out of tune with her own children, as was palpably obvious in Season 3 Episodes 4 & 5 “The Arrangements” & “The Fog.”

In “The Arrangements,” there is a powerful scene in which Betty’s father, Grampa Gene, tries to calmly explain and hand over an organized estate planning folder containing his Will and related legal documents. Having already suffered a stroke and no longer well enough to live alone, Grampa Gene realizes that it will sooner or later fall to Betty and her brother to wrap up all Gene’s affairs. By starting to pass along items of sentimental value to his grandson Bobby (like the dead soldier’s hat and a girl’s fan), his legacy and lifetime wisdom to his granddaughter Sally (telling her she could really do something with her life and not to let her mother tell her otherwise- the makings of a feminist), and the legal plans he made to Betty, Grampa Gene is clearly trying to make things easier on all of them. Yet Betty would prefer the ostrich approach, not speaking or hearing anything about it and angrily accusing her father of being “selfish and morbid” for trying to address it to her, his “little girl.” When the police officer arrives later in the episode to inform Betty (with callous disregard for the fact that young Sally is present), the officer asks Betty what should be done with “the body.” Betty detachedly walks inside to retrieve the estate planning folder her father had recently given her outlining his final wishes, including what should be done with his body.

In “The Fog,” Betty honors her newly-departed father, whom she sees in her heavily-drugged labor and delivery, by naming her newborn son Gene. As a quick aside, what a stark contrast labor and delivery was in 1963 to today! I mean, we hear and read about this, but seeing it portrayed this way, especially only two weeks after I delivered my third baby in a very different way (!) was both comical and disturbing. I laughed so hard we had to pause and back it up when Don and Betty arrived at the hospital and the nurse told him “you’ve done your job” and directed him to a lounge where he had some bourbon, read a magazine, and waited for the good news. But it was awful to see how the nurses treated Betty drugging, scolding, and physically restraining her while she was in active labor and transition. Those were definitely not good old days to which I’d ever wish to return thank you very much! And my husband enjoyed a good laugh when Roger complained to Don that all work in the creative department at their ad agency halted in his absence, to which Don replied that he’d only been gone half a day following the birth of his son!

Anyway, in light of Grampa Gene’s death and baby Gene’s birth, I had to wonder: do Betty and Don Draper have an estate plan for their three young children? Have they named guardians for their children in the event of an accident befalling both of them (in the days pre-seatbelts and rampant drinking and driving)? It seems clear neither would appoint Betty’s brother and sister-in-law yet Don has no family. What would Don Draper want done with the assets he’s amassed through his hard work at Sterling Cooper, including the house, the car, and all the personal possessions? What would become of Betty’s life as a financially comfortable housewife if Don were no longer there to provide for her and the children? Does he have a life insurance plan in place to support them? My guess to all of the above is no. And because I truly love these flawed characters I hope we don’t ever have to find out! What do you think?

About Danielle G. Van Ess

Danielle G. Van Ess is a Massachusetts (born and raised), experienced estate planning and small business attorney who helps her clients protect and preserve what matters most to them. To learn more, please visit: dgvelaw.com or call: 781-740-0848

One thought on “Betty Draper Finds Estate Planning "Selfish and Morbid"

Comments are closed.