We love our families. It is rare that an attorney gets to make an unqualified statement, but I feel pretty safe about that one. Just about everything we do is done for the benefit of our families. We work hard so our families will have what they need. We take our kids to school so they can learn what they need to be successful. We tuck those same children in at night so they will know that we love them. We love our families. As I was tucking my own daughter in the other night, I was reading her a story when it dawned on me how many of the “Once upon a time’s” we share start out with a hero or heroine who has lost one or both of their parents unexpectedly. It is a running joke in Disney movies about how it is impossible to find two living parents. Think about it, Elsa and Anna of Erindale, Snow White, Cinderella, Tianna, Tarzan, Aladdin, Mowgli and how many others are single parent or no parent households. Don’t think the animal heroes are any better off Bambi, Nemo, and Simba are all similarly situated.
After that realization really sunk in, I started to think about how a little estate planning would have completely changed the way we think about many of our children’s bed time stories. Cinderella for example. We all know that the poor little girl lost her father and was treated as a servant by her wicked step mother and wickeder step sisters. Then one day her fairy Godmother appears and as fast as you can say bippity, boppity, trademark…she is off to the ball to meet and fall in love with the prince who could whisk her away from her horrible mistreatment. Granted, it ends fine for the little girl who sleeps in a fireplace for warmth, but the middle was completely awful. Can you imagine Cinderella having any of those awful soot filled nights if her father hadn’t passed away? I, as the father of a daughter, would be inconsolable if I knew that my lack of planning left my princess in that situation!
Let’s look at the same story with the addition of some simple estate planning and see how it turns out. Once upon a time, there was a little girl. She loved her father very much, and he loved her as well. Her father loved his little girl so much that he couldn’t bear the thought of her not being provided for, so he made an appointment with his estate planning attorney. He executed a will with a good guardianship plan to ensure that his little girl would be raised by people who loved her and would always look out for her best interests. He executed a revocable living trust naming his daughter as the successor beneficiary and her fairy Godmother as the successor trustee to administer his estate for her benefit. The father took out an insurance policy and named the trust as the beneficiary. Some time later, the father died unexpectedly. The little girl was very sad. She moved in with her fairy Godmother who was named as her guardian in her father’s will. Even though she missed her father very much, her positive attitude and sunny disposition made every day a little happier. Her guardian loved her, provided for her, and ensured that she got an education and was able to provide for herself in the world as an adult. Because the father had left funds in trust for the daughters benefit the fairy Godmother was always able to pay for the daughter’s care and education. One day there was a grand ball and all of the maidens of the kingdom were ordered to attend. The man’s daughter went to the ball, met the prince, fell in love, and got married. They lived not only happily ever after, but also happily ever before. That awful middle part, and even the reason for naming the little girl Cinderella was completely eliminated by a little prior planning.
While an extreme example, knowing how much better Cinderella’s life could have been by virtue of a little bit of estate planning really convicts my heart. My little girl loves Cinderella, I even call her my princess. No matter how much she loves Cinderella, I can’t imagine leaving her in that situation if I could have prevented it.