Cinderella Without a WillCinderella is arguably one of Disney’s most popular movies. While the commercial plot summary of Cinderella may make it sound like just another fairytale about a beautiful princess, in reality the story of Cinderella is actually a simple yet poignant example of why all families, especially where there are minor children, need a will.

Cinderella’s Story

Cinderella’s story starts off tragically, as most Disney tales seem to do. First, Cinderella loses her mother, and then her father remarries Lady Tremaine, who he hopes will love and care for Cinderella as much as he does. Cinderella’s father is a businessman who travels often, so he is not home to see how his new wife is treating his daughter. Soon after the marriage, Cinderella’s father unexpectedly dies, leaving her in the care of Lady Tremaine, who soon shows her mean and wicked ways. We all know how the rest of the story goes, with Cinderella being mistreated by her stepmother and two wicked stepsisters until her Fairy Godmother comes along, and Cinderella finds her Prince Charming and lives happily-ever after.

Cinderella’s Story with a Will

What if I told you that Cinderella could have had the same happily ever after, without that whole ugly business of being mistreated by her stepmother and stepsisters? Her happily ever after would have been there from the start – if only her father had a will!

What is a Will?

A Will is a document that specifies who should inherit your property, including money and items of personal property, following your death. A Will can also designate a guardian for your minor children to provide who will take care of them in your absence. A well-drafted Will should answer all of the questions about what happens to everything you own, and what may be owed by you, at your death.

If Cinderella’s father had a will, it could have helped prevent her from being mistreated. How? First, if her father had a will, he could have appointed someone other than her stepmother to be the guardian of Cinderella. A will can provide specific language where a parent can appoint someone to be a guardian over their surviving child(ren) if he/she unexpectedly passes away. This can be especially critical for single parents, or parents who are planning to remarry. Usually, if there is a surviving parent, that parent will be listed as the person to have guardianship or custody of the child. A will is critical where both natural parents are deceased, such as in Cinderella’s case. Cinderella’s father could have chosen Cinderella’s grandmother or a trusted aunt to have custody of Cinderella, instead of a stepmother she barely knew and who clearly did not care for her.

If Cinderella Had a Trust

Cinderella With A WillAnother way Cinderella’s father could have protected her would have been by using a will to create a trust for her. A trust is an arrangement that allows a trustee (third party) to hold assets such as property or money on behalf of the beneficiary, such as your minor child(ren). A trust can be arranged in many ways and can specify how and when certain assets pass to the beneficiary. In Cinderella’s situation, her stepmother ended up being able to control all of her father’s money and property, and not for Cinderella’s benefit. A simple will and accompanying trust document would have ensured that whoever held Cinderella’s father’s property and money would have done so in a way that was in the best interest of Cinderella and saw that her needs were met.

Moral of the Story

We can take what we have learned from Cinderella and apply it to just about any situation and to any family. When you think of the word “family,” you may think about people who love you unconditionally and who will always be there for you. Unfortunately, Cinderella and history has shown us that nothing will divide a family quite like death and money. Cinderella’s father loved Lady Tremaine but was she the best guardian for Cinderella? Regardless, we can see that when tragedy strikes, it is crucial to not just have a plan – but to have it on paper.

Although many families trust each other to do the right thing, why leave it up to chance? Not having a signed Will can result in extra stress, turmoil and grief for your family and it can even result in prolonged litigation and fighting in and out of the court system, tying up your property in the courts instead of it going to the loved ones you intended. There are many families who are battling over their loved one’s estate because there was no Will or the surviving spouse/children are not following the desires of their deceased loved one. As you are planning for the future, also plan for the legacy you want to leave. A Will can ensure that all of your hard-earned assets are properly distributed and the care of your children is adequately handled.

Cinderella’s horrible experience could have possibly been avoided if only her father had planned for both the expected and the unexpected. This is not to say that Cinderella’s father would not have made Lady Tremaine the guardian of Cinderella anyway, but a will could have offered Cinderella some additional form of protection by specifying the manner in which Lady Tremaine would have to care for Cinderella. As a parent and businessman, Cinderella’s father should have taken measures to not only protect Cinderella, but also his estate. It is important that the surviving family have clear directions on how their estate is to be divided amongst their heirs.

Plan Ahead

Regardless of the size of your estate, planning ahead for your future and the legacy you want to leave behind is as serious as Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother telling her to be home by midnight. Knowing what you know now, would you leave the future of your family up to fate? While Cinderella did eventually meet and marry her Prince Charming, real life is not fairy tale. Don’t wait.

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When I opened the doors to Sodoma Law in 2008, it was with the intention of building a different kind of firm. When I started to put together the team, I focused on creating a culture unlike any other I had encountered: a “firm family” that showed commitment to our clients, to our team and to our community. Over time, this concept has become known as “The Sodoma Way.”

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