Monday, January 29, 2018

Children's Literature: An Unlikely Source of Estate Planning Lessons

Image result for image book matilda

Think Children's Literature and Estate Planning lessons do not go hand in hand? Think again. 

This phenomenon first hit me in 2014 when I watched Disney's film Cinderella with my then preschool aged children.  As I said then in a blog post, if you are a parent without a will nominating a guardian for your child(ren) and setting up a children's trusts, watch Cinderella and you'll find your motivation.

Each new year of parenting has brought changes: diapers are a thing of the past, larger and larger bowls of oatmeal are required for the kids' breakfast, and the books and films they digest grow in complexity.  In the Treasure Hunters Series by Jams Patterson four adolescent siblings navigate the world of espionage and foreign seas in the midst of parents lost at sea.  Pulling his nose from the book my son raised a question -- "mom, what's 'their legal guardian' mean?"  Most recently it was Roald Dahl's Matilda that caused me to analyze and estate planning problem within the plot of a classic kids book -- a missing will and a crazed relative.

Matilda is the precocious protagonist of this 1988 classic kids book of the same name. Yet it is Ms. Honey, Matilda's teacher, that presents the link to keeping wills safe.  As a back story the reader learns that Ms. Honey lives a life of poverty while her aunt, and head teacher at the school where she works, lives in Ms. Honey's upscale childhood home.  It appears that the aunt took possession of the house when Ms. Honey's father (a widower, of course) died.  In the end of the book the will is found, Ms. Honey is declared the proper heir, and she returns to her home and the comforts of modern life (running water for example).  As both a mother and an estate planner, I shudder when I think about a parent's will being "lost" and unscrupulous relatives sliding in to claim possession or control of assets and/or child(ren).  You just cannot lose your will!  We live in the digital age, but when it comes to wills, the original hard copy is required.

Here in Dane County, Wisconsin one can file his/her will for "safe keeping" with the court for a $10 fee.  It is stored, in a sealed envelope, in the courts records.  Nothing is ever perfect, but my parental gut tells me the courts record system is safer than anything I could put in place at home.  Phew, one worry I can set aside as we pass through the stages of child development and the ensuing books and movies of youth.


CJ said...

Given all the layers of security, such as not accepting photocopies and how to handle if two heirs die at nearly the same instance, I'm shocked that filing at the court isn't required. I'm surprised there's not some complicated authentication scheme. It's literally a piece of paper in safe. That makes no sense to me. The document management system is at the level of sophistication described in this legal conference slide.

kristinahojholt said...
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