Cinderella’s Dad Could Have Prevented the Whole Thing

Cinderella lost her mother when she was very young.  Her father remarried in an attempt to create a family for Cinderella, wedding a woman with two daughters of her own.  Apparently things were hunky dory when when dad was alive, but sadly, he also died when Cinderella was still a young girl.  At that point the step-mother became the step-mother that all step-mothers since have tried to disassociate themselves from.

What went wrong?

Cinderella’s dad, believing his second wife to be a loving mother to his daughter, left all his fortune in her control and his daughter in her care. However, step-mom prioritized her biological daughters and was imprudent with the money, leaving the family in less fortunate circumstances than they had been.  In order to conserve the money that was left, Cinderella was turned into the family housekeeper, cook, and all around caretaker, while the step-sisters and their mother were pampered with what remained of the inherited money.

Cinderella’s dad may not have been able to know what would happen after his death, but he could have made far better preparations for his family, and his daughter in particular, that would have minimized the unexpected turn in his wife’s behavior.  While step-mothers do not always turn on their step-children, they do sometimes run into other circumstances that can thwart a deceased parent’s intent.  Severe illness, serious accidents, drug addictions, mental illness, early onset dementia, and other things can derail even the kindest step-parents.  The desire to protect against unknown events is a great reason to set up safeguards in your estate plan when it comes to providing for minors or disabled children. 

A better choice

Instead of leaving everything in the unfettered control and discretion of his second wife, Cinderella’s dad should have considered having a separate trust set up for his daughter, to be used solely for her needs or accumulated and given to her when she reached majority.  This would have prevented the step-mother from diverting all the funds away from Cinderella, or given Cinderella a remedy if the step-mother failed to meet her fiduciary duties as trustee. He could have even had a trustee other than the step-mother, to provide an additional point of view in the care of his daughter.

With better planning on her dad’s part, Cinderella may have been able to see more choices for her future than merely securing a rich prince to care for her needs.  After all, not everyone can get a prince, so we need to give our children the means to go forward on their own.

Planning matters. Blended families need extra special planning. When you are ready, give us a call at 833-Red-Boot (833-733-2668), email legal@parkercounsel.com , or make an appointment here to talk about your needs.

You’re Forgetting Someone Important

Special needs planning when your child has siblings

(This guest post was written by Cassidy Parker Knight, the adult daughter of one of our attorneys. )

If you’re a parent of a child with special needs, you’ve probably spent some time wondering about what your child’s future will look like once you’re not around to take care of them anymore – maybe a lot of time, and maybe more worrying than wondering. Where will they live? What money will support them? Who will take care of them?

“the reason you’re worried is because you won’t be around, but the reason your other kids worry is because they will be around.” 

Cassidy and her big brother Dylan

            You may not realize it, but if you have other kids who aren’t disabled, they’ve thought about it too. Of course, the reason you’re worried is because you won’t be around, but the reason your other kids worry is because they will be around. They may worry that you plan on your disabled child living with them and they don’t want that, or they may worry that any financial burden will fall to them, and wonder what happens if they can’t afford it. If they’re older, they may worry that there is no plan, and that it will be all on them to figure out after you’re gone.

            I think I was in middle school the first time the thought occurred to me that someday, my parents would be gone and it would just be me left to care for my brothers. It’s overwhelming, at just 12, to start worrying not only about your parents dying someday, but all the lifelong responsibilities that will come with those deaths. And the older your kids get, the more aware they’ll become of what those responsibilities entail. I’ve spoken to siblings who made decisions about college, their profession, where they live, and whether they start families all based on their future responsibilities for their siblings.

            For a parent, it must be overwhelming to think about planning a future for your child that you won’t be a part of. It can be easy to think that you’re shielding your other kids from that worry, but in reality, the opposite is true. Your disabled child’s adult siblings are your biggest allies, and filling them in on any estate planning you’ve done or wishes for the future you have will also be a kindness to them. It can also help you both to spot problems with the plan while you still have a chance to make your voice heard—for instance, if you want your child with special needs to live with your abled child and you learn that your abled child doesn’t want that, it’s probably important to you that you have a say in the alternative.

            In all the conversations I’ve had with other siblings though, the most common worry I hear about the future is not about the responsibility or having to take care of their sibling—it’s about the uncertainty. If you have the estate planning under control, fill your child in, especially if they’re not really a child anymore. Let them know what roles they should and shouldn’t expect to play, and give them an opportunity to tell you whether that fits the role they want to play. Most importantly though, there should be a plan. If that part hasn’t been done yet, starting that process would really be the greatest kindness you could do all of your children.