Monday, April 25, 2005
One of my eclectic students, Graham Smith, recently recommended that I read a children’s book entitled The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket because of its thematic elements revolving around various aspects of estate planning.
I followed his advice and read the book. It is unlike any children’s book I have ever read. Ominously, the book begins with following warning, “If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book.”
The book revolves around the lives of three children who by page eight lose their loving and wealthy parents in a tragic fire. The orphans are then sent to a distant relative who forces them to live in unsanitary conditions and perform child labor. The relative makes matters worse by engaging in acts of child abuse such as beating a child, forcing a fourteen year old child into marriage, binding, gagging, and confining an infant, making death treats, and committing other heinous acts.
Despite the nightmares this book may cause its tender readers (like me) to have, the book provides a tremendous boost to the value of a legal education and that it is never too early to start. The older children find a way to access and study law books. The legal knowledge they gain leads to the very happy “almost” ending. (Things get worse after the author’s warns, “If you like, you may shut this book this instant and not read the unhappy ending that is to follow.”)
Here is a sampling of the wills, estates, and trusts topics covered in this book:
- Trusts (Not referred to by name but by concept, “I will be handling [your parents’] enormous fortune [and] [w]hen [oldest child] comes of age, the fortune will be yours, but the bank will take charge of it until you are old enough.”)
- Degrees of relationship (e.g., third cousin four times removed)
- Naming of guardians in a will
- Inheritance law
- Marital (“nuptial,” as it is called in the book) law
- In loco parentis