Cinderella’s real parents were not bad people;they simply failed to properly plan, explains California attorney Ahmed Shakh. And proper planning for stepchildren has to involve estate planning attorneys,Shakh points out. After all, state legislatures and the Federal Government cannot write laws to protect families they have never met.
“It is common for spouses to own their property jointly, even widowers who remarry. Married couples like to:
- name each other as beneficiaries in their retirement plans and life insurance
- structure ownership of their homes in such a way that all of the real estate passes to the surviving spouse bydeed
- title financial accounts jointly
“There is no probate, no trust administration, and no notice to anybody. The surviving spouse just gets everything.”
We often forget the backstory of Cinderella, Shakh says:
- Cinderella’s mother dies when Cinderella is still a child.
- Cinderella’s father decides to marry a woman who has two girls around the same age as Cinderella.
- Cinderella’s father dies, leaving the estate to his widow.
- The stepmother takes advantage of the estate assets for the benefit of herself and her two natural daughters.
- Cinderella is treated as a servant in her own home.
What is interesting about this story is how common it is, Shakh laments. Using an orphan’s own assets by stepparents is a situation based on “the inherent structural problems of asset succession, he points out. In the non-Disney world, the “wicked stepmothers” may be brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, or judgment creditors.
If both parents die, the law requires a minor child to have a personal guardian to step in and in effect become the child’s parent. Who would be the guardian for your children? Many people haven’t given this question enough thought, according to American Bar.org.
At Geyer & Associates, we know that for parents estate planning is about a lot more than money. We discuss issues of guardianship, financial management, and family dynamicswith all parents, including the following questions:
- Who would provide the best care for your children if you die?
- Will their guardians have enough money to provide your children with the kind of education and environment you prefer?
- What happens if just one parent dies, leaving the survivor to bring up the children?
Child-proofing your estate plan can avoid a Cinderella situation!