VALAR MORGHULIS: INHERITANCE LAW FOR HOUSE LANNISTER IN GAME OF THRONES
Written by Jim Worthington on May 20, 2019
The HBO series Game of Thrones ended last night, and like most fans of the show, the fortunes of Houses Stark, Targaryen, and Lannister kept me on the edge of my seat. As an estate planning attorney, I think who inherits these “fortunes” is of particular interest. And with so many characters meeting unfortunate deaths this season, I’ve had a lot to consider. Here are a few thoughts about just one of these wars of “wills.” By the way, this discussion is based only on the TV series and not on the A Song of Ice and Fire books.
Spoilers to Follow
The simultaneous deaths of Queen Cersei and her brother, Jaime Lannister, in the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones’ final season raise many questions, including who will inherit their father, Tywin Lannister’s, fortune. Tywin’s wife died before him. All three of his children, Cersei, Jaime and Tyrion, survived his death. There are issues, however, preventing either Tyrion or Jaime from being heirs. Since Tyrion killed his father, the slayer or forfeiture rule should prevent him from being an heir. That long-standing public policy understandably prevents someone from inheriting by committing a murder. Jaime lost the right to inherit when he was assigned to the Kingsguard. As Tywin had no male heirs, Cersei would have inherited from him.
Cersei’s son, King Tommen, later relieved Jaime from the burdens of the Kingsguard, and it appears that Jaime retroactively became his father’s heir. This deprived Cersei of her inheritance. Given her “closeness” to her twin brother, she may not have been too upset, especially since, after Tommen’s death, she became queen. At any rate, this development would not happen in our non-fantasy world where a vested interest in property cannot be taken without due process. In a world of kings and queens with a feudal system, due process was much less robust than it is now.
Keeping it in the Family
What happened to the Lannister inheritance, though, when Cersei and Jaime died in each other’s arms? Neither was survived by any children. The issue of simultaneous death raises its head here. Whom do you presume died first when the order of death cannot be determined? Let’s assume that Westeros follows the Uniform Simultaneous Death Act as Kentucky does. That law would treat each as having predeceased the other. This rule avoids having the same property go through two different estates.
Assuming Cersei didn’t have a will — because she thought she was invincible — her only heir was her hated brother, Tyrion. Tyrion also would have been Jaime’s only heir. Despite their father’s strong wishes to the contrary, Tyrion will become the Lord of Casterly Rock, or what’s left of it after the Unsullied sacked it.
There’s a catch, however. Cersei borrowed from the Iron Bank of Braavos to hire the mercenary Golden Company. It’s reasonable to assume that the Iron Bank required her and Jaime to pledge House Lannister’s assets to secure that loan. Thus, the Iron Bank will have a claim against their estates. Tyrion could defend that claim by saying the Iron Bank took the wrong side, but that seems unlikely. He was especially fond of reminding everyone that “a Lannister Always Pays His Debts.” Tyrion’s honor may mean that Casterly Rock will be auctioned off to the highest bidder.
Do you have a crown to protect?
Your estate may not contain ancestral castles or dragons, but you don’t want your heirs to be forced into selling off the family legacy due to claims against the estate. If you haven’t considered how your family will deal with the whims of fate, you may want to review your will and your other estate planning documents. If you’re a GoT fan like me, you’ll have one free hour starting this week.