Research – Testing the limits of Google

Recently, as I think I’ve mentioned, J gave the MS of AUT to her boss, D, for a fresh read and D red-flagged something that I probably knew deep down was a problem but never really wanted to confront it. Whoops, Inc.! Well, that’s what wonderful talented agents are for, you see. Anyway, the problem had to do with inheritance law and the fact that minors aren’t legally allowed to enter into binding financial contracts (i.e. create their own wills) or accept a gift under a will. Now, objectively speaking, this is not that big of a deal. Minors inherit money, so I know it can be done, but what I didn’t take into consideration is that, of course, there are limits to how they can access and use that money, and also there is always a legal adult in charge of the assets. So I just had to figure out how the person who willed the money to two minor girls would have done it.

That part, at least, was easy. A quick Google led me straight to an answer: testamentary trusts. (Yes, I am taking legal advice from Wikipedia.) A testamentary trust is a trust that becomes active upon the death of the settler (or testator)–basically, these characters’ grandmother, who is LOADED and kicks the bucket off-stage. The testator can establish an executor or guardian of the trust, which can be different than an actual legal guardian of the minor, which is good because I know the first thing Mams (the settler) would want to do is keep the money as far away from one of the girls’ legal guardians as possible. The way I see it, the guardian of the trusts would then authorize allowances for the girls, and they would get full access to the money when they graduated high school (something I also learned: the age of majority in California for inheriting money is 18 unless the minor is still in high school; then it’s 19, or upon graduation) so that they could use it for college or travel or whatever girls do with millions these days. Perhaps I should ask Paris Hilton?

Anyway, here is what I’m stumbling with: what if, before she reaches the age of majority, one of these girls dies? What happens to the money? Google is less forthcoming with an answer for this one. Now, I can hazard a pretty good guess–that the assets are then distributed according to state laws regarding intestacy, because a minor cannot have a will, as I said before. At least, that’s what happens in Canada. But AUT does not take place in Canada! Anyway, if we say that it’s probably similar in the US (specifically California, because I know that all the states have different laws re: this issue), I’m going to go with that means that her next of kin (her father) would inherit everything. Technically, I can stop there. Her physical possessions would most definitely go to her next of kin, since you can’t even technically own property as a minor, although I wonder how that affects sixteen-year-olds who save up and buy their own cars? Well, Google says that probs you can’t be the sole owner of a car as a minor in most states, so we’ll go with that. Anyway, one of the things that bugs me about just leaving it like that is that if the OTHER girl had died, the guardian of her trust would NOT have wanted her father to inherit the money–and how would he go about preventing that from happening?

My thought is that he probably couldn’t, but this guy is a dotter of “i”s and a crosser of “t”s–if there’s any way he could stop his niece’s father from getting his hands on her money, he would probably do it. And now that I think about it, I wonder if he, as guardian of the trust, would inherit everything anyway, since for her next of kind (her father) to inherit it she would technically have to own it but she can’t own it because she can’t inherit anything technically because she’s a minor. SEE WHAT’S HAPPENING TO ME? What seemed like a fairly insignificant part of the story has grown ten sizes bigger when I found out I was doing it wrong. Shite. I should’ve gone to law school. WHY ARE NONE OF MY FRIENDS LAWYERS?

The good thing is that I emailed J about my potential solution and she was totally on board with it, and pointed out that this solution will give some relationships and personalities added dimension, so it will probably improve the story, which is great. But I think I still may need to visit a university legal clinic when I’m home in California (less than two weeks! I’m so pumped) just to make sure, although it looks like SCU’s law clinic only does consultation on worker’s rights, etc. Anyone have any suggestions of where I could get free answers to a couple (just one or two, swear!) will and trust questions?

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