By Gail Rubin
The Six Wives of Henry Lefay (2009) is a comedic cautionary tale for those who don’t make funeral plans, or for those who make plans but get married way too many times. One of the tag lines is: He loves women – Lots of women.
As a funny funeral film, it’s a great tool to start funeral planning conversations. It’s also a great way for estate planning attorneys to help their clients get serious about their wills, trusts and other estate planning issues.
Audio-video salesman Henry Lefay (Tim Allen) disappears while para-sailing in Mexico and is presumed dead. His daughter Barbie (Elisha Cuthbert) returns to her Upstate New York hometown for the funeral. Tensions mount into comedic explosions when Henry’s current wife, his five exes, and a mistress wage a fierce power struggle over the final arrangements.
Wife #1 is Kate (Andie MacDowell), Barbie’s mother. Ophelia (Jenna Elfman), Wife #2 and #4 (he married her twice), is an intensely passionate and often drunk woman who Henry continues to “date” on a regular basis. Wife #3, Veronica (Paz Vega), owns and operates half of Henry’s successful business. Wife #5, Autumn (Lindsay Sloane), who’s Barbie’s age, thinks she’s in charge and will inherit everything since she’s the current wife.
None of them knows there was yet another wife before Kate, and the mistress Henry was with in Mexico expects to become wife #7. Things really get crazy at the funeral home visitations after the body is returned to the U.S.
The disagreements fly: Should the casket be open or closed? What cemetery is he supposed to be buried in? And what about cremation?
Wives #2 through #5 each have handwritten letters from Henry with different funeral arrangements. Veronica has side-by-side plots for her and Henry in Pleasant Meadows cemetery. Autumn has side-by-side plots for her and Henry in Shady Glen cemetery. And Ophelia has a letter saying he wants to be cremated and his ashes scattered in the ocean off a catamaran near the Bahamas.
This being a comedy, there are several surprise twists and a happy ending. It’s not a deep film by any means. No spoiler alerts, you’ll just have to see the movie.
Most folks probably don’t have a complicated love life like Henry Lefay’s. Still, the film raises important questions that all families need to answer before someone dies.
A few points to ponder (and act upon):
- When changing spouses, update the details of any funeral plans or advance directives in place.
- Review and update all wills, advance directives, trusts, and other important papers whenever there’s a change in marital status and any additions to (or subtractions from) the family.
- A personal letter of instruction that lays out your wishes is very helpful for your loved ones – just don’t make different ones for different spouses like Henry Lefay did.
The Six Wives of Henry Lefay provides a lighthearted lesson in the serious business of funeral planning, wills, trusts and estate planning. It can open the door to discussions of funeral plans, inheritance, business succession, trusts, and pre-nup agreements.
The Six Wives of Henry Lefay can be rented on DVD through Netflix and purchased (as available) from Amazon.com. It is rated PG-13 for sexual content, nudity and some language.
Gail Rubin is the author of the award-winning book, A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die (https://agoodgoodbye.com), and The Family Plot Blog. She’s “knocking them dead” with her Funny Films to Start Serious Conversations talks.