Why Snow White’s Father Should Have Had an Estate Plan


Many of us are familiar with the story of Snow White and the seven dwarfs. Central to the story is the relationship between Snow White and her stepmother. After losing his wife, the king decided to marry again to provide a motherly influence for his daughter, Snow White. While things were peaceful for a while, once the king passed away, the Queen’s true colors came to light. Feeling threatened that Snow White was the “fairest of them all,” she arranged to have Snow White killed. However, as most of us know, the huntsman showed mercy on Snow White and allowed her to escape. Eventually, after living with the seven dwarfs and meeting Prince Charming, she marries the prince, and her stepmother dies (how this occurs varies depending on the source). Although this scenario seems somewhat extreme, this fairy tale shows the conflict that can exist when the unifying member of the family dies without an estate plan. Had the king engaged with an estate planning attorney to put his affairs in order, the outcome of this story might have been drastically different.

An Estate Planning Attorney Would Have Put Everything in Writing

While we do not know what the king’s wishes were, if he had written them down in a legally enforceable manner, we would know and they could have been enforced. With tangible proof, everyone would have known what they were entitled to, and it would have been easier for third parties and beneficiaries to enforce what the king wanted. To carry out his wishes, the king had a couple of legal tools he could have utilized.

  1. Last Will and Testament

The king could have used a last will and testament, which is a document that names a personal representative (also called an executor) to collect all of the king’s accounts and property, pay his outstanding debts, and distribute his money and property. A will would specify who would receive the king’s accounts and property and name a guardian for Snow White, as she was a minor at the time of his death. Although this document would only be legally enforceable at the king’s death, it could have provided an official way to express his wishes. One downside of relying on a will, however, is that to distribute the king’s money and property, his loved ones would have been required to go through the probate process (the court-supervised procedure to distribute accounts and property to loved ones upon a person’s death).

  1. Revocable Living Trust and a Pour-Over Will

Alternatively, the king could have created a revocable living trust during his lifetime. The king would have been able to change the trust document at any time until he became unable to handle his own affairs or passed away. This planning tool would have allowed him to name himself as the current trustee (the person or entity who manages, invests, and distributes the money and property) and to designate a co-trustee or backup trustee if he was unable to act. During the king’s lifetime, he would have had to either change the ownership of his accounts and property (his assets) from himself as an individual to himself as the trustee of the trust or designate the trust as the beneficiary of his assets (with some exceptions). The trust would have allowed him to continue enjoying his assets during his lifetime and designate who would inherit from him upon his death without probate court involvement. This would protect the inheritances of his loved ones and keep prying eyes out of his affairs.

If the king executed a revocable living trust as part of his estate plan, he would also have a will, but it would be called a pour-over will. This document would be referred to if one or more of the king’s assets were not properly transferred to his trust during his lifetime or at his death by beneficiary designation, or if a guardian needed to be appointed for Snow White. The difference between a will and a pour-over will is that a pour-over directs that all assets subject to the probate proceeding be transferred to the trust instead of a person. Although the king’s loved ones would still have to go through probate, the probate assets would end up in the trust, managed and distributed according to his trust instructions.

 An Estate Plan Would Have Appointed Someone to Be in Charge

Once the king passed away, the law would dictate who could step in to handle his affairs if he did not have a legally valid estate plan. The stepmother might be at the top of the list as the surviving spouse, and because she was older than Snow White, she might have had more leverage to step in and take control. By creating an estate plan, the king could have appointed and empowered a trusted person as the personal representative under his last will and testament or as a successor trustee under this trust to handle his affairs, such as a trusted friend, advisor, or neutral third party.

An Estate Plan Would Have Protected Inheritances

Given Snow White’s young age when her father passed, it is likely that she was too young to manage a large sum of money or rule a kingdom without some guidance and oversight. Therefore, whatever he wanted to leave behind for Snow White could have been held in trust for her, either under his will as a testamentary trust or as a subtrust of his revocable living trust. A trust would have allowed him to craft specific instructions on when and how Snow White would receive her inheritance. If the king created a separate subtrust for Snow White, he could provide instructions so Snow White would receive her inheritance when the king died instead of waiting until her stepmother passed away to receive whatever was left over.

Holding an inheritance in trust is not just for minors. The king could have also placed whatever inheritance he wanted to leave his wife in trust. He could have provided specific instructions about how much she would get and when she would get it so that he would have that assurance that she was provided for. He would have also been able to dictate who would receive the money or property left in the stepmother’s subtrust when she died. In this case, he could have named Snow White as next in line to receive whatever was left in the stepmother’s trust.

Snow White Could Have Had a Better Guardian

Upon the king’s passing, a decision had to be made about who would look after Snow White. In this instance, it appears as though her stepmother was in control and did not make for a kind or caring guardian. However, had the king truly thought about this, he could have nominated someone else. Perhaps there was a grandparent, aunt, or uncle who would have been able to step in—instead of the dwarfs who ultimately took care of her. A guardian's nomination is usually included in a last will and testament or pour-over will. While this is just a nomination made by the deceased parent, it can carry significant weight when a judge is looking to appoint a suitable guardian. Some jurisdictions also have a separate document that a person can use to nominate a guardian. This document would be referenced in the will or pour-over will as well but would be the only document needing revision if the king changed his mind about who he wanted to raise Snow White.

Help Ensure a Fairy Tale Ending for Your Loved Ones

While the story of Snow White is just a fairy tale, important lessons can be learned. We all want our loved ones to have happy endings. We can help you take steps to avoid the bad outcomes that are part of the typical fairy tales. To discuss ways we can help you craft your happily ever after, give us a call.