Protect Cinderella from evil step-mother

How to Protect Cinderella From Her Evil Step-Mother

By Scott E. Rahn and Meagan A. Paisley

There are no shortage of film adaptations of Cinderella, and we’ve probably seen most of them. From Disney’s animated Cinderella (then Cinderella II: Dreams Come True and Cinderella 3: A Twist in Time), Ever After starring Drew Barrymore, Ella Enchanted starring Anne Hathaway, A Cinderella Story starring Hilary Duff, and Another Cinderella Story starring Selena Gomez, something about the story of Cinderella has captivated generations and given us numerous retellings. There’s something about seeing a girl who stays positive and kind, even in the face of cruel adversity finally get the love and riches she deserves in the end.

Each of the film adaptations of Cinderella have their own details that make them special. In Ella Enchanted, Ella was cursed by a fairy to have to exactly what she’s told when she’s told to do it. In A Cinderella Story, the story takes place in the 2000s, Cinderella is named Sam, and she is a waitress at her late father’s diner. Whatever the iteration, the basic premise is almost always the same- there are a few life moments that are required to start the Cinderella story.

First, Cinderella’s birth mother must no longer be in the picture (explanation optional). Second, there must be an evil stepmother. Third, Cinderella must be left in the care of her evil stepmother with no way to protect or provide for herself, usually at a young age.

Unfortunately, far too often the evil stepmother trope isn’t just a thing of fairytales. Sometimes, a blended family isn’t so well blended, and the children of the deceased person may end up with none of the assets despite the best intentions of the deceased parent. Sometimes someone you trust completely, isn’t exactly who they say they are. You can’t change that people in the world will lie, cheat or steal for their own selfish gain, but you can protect yourself and the people you love from someone who might take advantage of them.

So, here’s how you can protect your Cinderella (or yourself) from an evil stepparent.

1. Have an Estate Plan that is Kept Somewhere Safe and Findable.

The first and best step to making sure Cinderella is protected, is making sure that you have a solid estate plan in place that provides for Cinderella. Make sure your assets go where you want them to go. If you would like to leave everything to Cinderella, you can do that! If you would like to leave a portion to Cinderella and some to her stepmother, you can do that as well! Working with an experienced estate planner can help you achieve your goals and make sure Cinderella and your spouse receives what you intend for them.

When you’ve done your estate planning, it’s important to make sure the original estate plan is available to someone you trust who will abide by your wishes, and if Cinderella’s an adult or nearly an adult, providing a copy or the original to Cinderella may be a good idea.

Giving your estate plan to someone you trust to watch out for the best interests of all your beneficiaries, including Cinderella, is essential. In A Cinderella Story, starring Hilary Duff, Sam’s (Cinderella’s) dad passed away in an earthquake and her stepmother took advantage of Sam for years, forcing her to work at the diner for little pay and treating her poorly when Sam was home. At the end of the movie, (spoiler alert) Sam discovers a will hidden in the old book her father used to read her bedtime stories from. The will gives everything to Sam. Had Sam or a trusted adult known about the Will, it could’ve been probated right after her father’s passing, saving Sam years of mistreatment and heartache. What’s more, if a will is not probated timely, you may lose any and all opportunity to enforce it at all. Time is of the essence!

2. Beware the Omitted Spouse!

Making sure you have an estate plan is a key part of protecting all your beneficiaries, including Cinderella. However, just because you have an estate plan before you marry the “Evil Stepmother” doesn’t mean Cinderella is protected. It is important to keep your estate plans updated.

Under California Probate Code 21610, a spouse not mentioned in your will or trust or otherwise provided for may be entitled to his or her intestate share of the estate. If the will or trust predates the marriage and the new spouse is not mentioned in the trust, then the new spouse will be entitled to their half of the community property and as much as half of the separate property you own.

If you would like Cinderella to inherit more of your assets, or the entirety of the estate, you will need to ensure that your estate plan is up to date and states specifically what you want Cinderella and your spouse to receive upon your passing. Make sure that you work with an experienced estate planner who can help you keep your estate plan updated and ensure your assets go where you want.

3. What if Cinderella is a Child When you Pass?

Most versions of Cinderella do show Cinderella as child when their beloved parent passes away. If that happens to you, what happens to the money? That’s up to your estate plan.

A guardian ad litem could be appointed by the court for Cinderella to represent her interests until she comes of age. You could put the money in a trust and have a trustee named to hold onto the money and disburse as Cinderella needs. You should talk with your estate planner about the options available, and they will help you make the best decisions for your situation.

4. What if you are Cinderella?

If you are a Cinderella, concerned about your evil stepmother taking everything after your beloved parent has passed away your options depend on what happened so evil stepmother got everything.

  • No Estate Plan

If your parent passed away without a will or a trust, you should still be entitled to inherit a portion of their separate property e.g. property acquired prior to the marriage. However, assets acquired during the marriage will be presumed to be community property, and they will be distributed to your evil stepparent. You should seek a lawyer to discuss these assets to help you determine if there is separate property to pursue.

  • Will or Trust, but the Evil Stepparent is Refusing to Comply

If your parent left a will or a trust and you see what inheritance you have been left, then it’s time to begin administration of the estate. You can hire a lawyer to help you begin administration, send out all of the necessary notices, and comply with the legal hoops set up by the court. This will help get the process started, even when you know or believe there may be a fight coming from your evil stepparent.

If, after receiving the documents and notices that administration has begun your evil stepparent is refusing to follow the trust or distribute assets, then it’s time to hire a lawyer and get the court to order your evil step-parent to turn the assets over. The will or trust is a controlling document, and if the assets are left to you on those pages, you are entitled to them. You will need to seek out a lawyer to help you file a petition to get the Evil Step-Parent to comply.

  • Will or Trust, but I Don’t Think it’s What my Parent Wanted

An all-too-common story we hear here at RMO is a parent who remarries the evil stepparent but assures Cinderella she will be taken care of, that there are many assets coming to Cinderella, but to Cinderella’s surprise when her beloved parent passes away the evil stepparent gets everything, completely contradicting everything their beloved parent said. Sometimes, this can be a red flag for undue influence, incapacity, fraud and/or financial elder abuse.

When we’re looking for undue influence we’re looking for four major warning signs. First, we look to see if the victim, here the beloved parent, had any type of condition that would lead them to be vulnerable. Sometimes this is an ailment such as dementia or Alzheimer’s that causes someone to lose cognitive ability. Sometimes, the victim has no cognitive issues, but their physical health requires them to be completely dependent on their spouse, which, of course, means that they may feel the need to acquiesce to demands or risk being left alone.

Second, we look to see if the abuser had any kind of perceived authority over the victim. If the abuser is the victim’s spouse, child, or caretaker, they may have some kind of perceived authority. Whether that authority is just that they are in a position where the victim would fully trust them, or the caretaker keeps the victim alive, and the victim is scared to use them, this perceived authority can lead the abuser to taking advantage of the vulnerable victim.

Third, we look for the tactics used by the abuser. One very common tactic is the abuser isolating the victim from outside influence and lying to them about others to isolate the victim to make them feel they need to leave everything in their estate to them or risk losing them or their care. Another common tactic is threatening to leave the victim alone without a way to survive if the victim does not do what the abuser wants. These tactics can range from lies the victim may never detect to violent physical abuse as punishment for failing to comply.

Finally, we look at whether the outcome is fair. If the beloved parent promised everything to Cinderella, but the result of the undue influence is that Cinderella is still getting her intestate share, well, that result may not be “unfair.” These are complexities that require investigation and consultation.

Of course, undue influence isn’t the only way a suspicious will may show up. There could be incapacity, fraud, forgery, elder abuse, or some other type of foul play. If you suspect that the will or trust provided to you is the product of undue influence, incapacity, fraud, forgery, elder abuse, or some other wrongdoing, you need to reach out to an estate dispute attorney immediately, as your time to challenge the will or trust is limited.

Here at RMO, we have decades of experience helping families navigate these issues, successfully, cost-effectively. Schedule a consult today to see how we might help you.

RMO LLP provides personal and efficient inheritance dispute services to individual and institutional clients. The firm’s attorneys focus on probate litigation involving contested trust, estate, probate, and conservatorship matters. Serving California and Texas, with offices in Los Angeles, Pasadena, Orange County, San Diego, Fresno, the Bay Area, Dallas, and Houston. For more information, please visit https://rmolawyers.com/.

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About the Author

Scott Rahn, Founding Partner​

Scott Rahn resolves contests, disputes and litigation related to trusts, estates and conservatorships, creating a welcome peace of mind for clients. He represents heirs, beneficiaries, trustees and executors. He utilizes his experience to develop and implement strategies that swiftly and efficiently address the financial issues, fiduciary duties and emotional complexities underlying trust contests, estates conflicts and probate litigation.

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