Not only is Disney’s award-winning animated film Encanto hugely entertaining, it also contains the following valuable estate planning lessons:
- Leaving a family legacy is important and can have an impact beyond your immediate family.
- Be sure to consider the significance of multigenerational planning.
- Treating each beneficiary as a unique person is essential.
- Naming the “strongest” child as your fiduciary may not always be the most sensible decision.
A Family Legacy Can Impact More Than Just Your Immediate Family
In Encanto, the Madrigal family had received a “miracle,” and family members received unique “gifts” associated with the miracle. Along with the miracle and the gifts they had received, the Madrigal family also recognized their responsibility to use their miracle and gifts to benefit the whole town. They took their responsibility very seriously.
Like the Madrigal family, you can use your estate plan to benefit the world around you. You can design your plan so that the money and property you leave will cultivate a legacy that will not only impact your immediate family but can also benefit the community for generations to come. The Carnegie Foundation, which funds libraries and learning centers around the country, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which fights poverty, disease, and inequity around the world, are well-known examples. But you do not have to be a billionaire to establish a family foundation. In its simplest terms, a family foundation is a means of providing charity that is funded with family assets and often employs family members to work for its cause. Family foundations are an effective way to involve your family in establishing a charitable legacy that can benefit the community.
If a family foundation does not fit your estate planning goals, there are additional ways to leave a legacy and impact your community on a smaller scale. For example, you could fund a scholarship, a room in a library, or even a park bench. Another option is to talk to your financial advisor about donor-advised funds. Such charitable gifts can be a powerful source of family pride, creating meaning and a legacy for your family.
The Significance of Multigenerational Planning
In Encanto, Abuela was just as concerned about her grandchildren and helping them to obtain and properly use their gifts as she was about her own children. Although designing an estate plan that benefits only your children is typical, grandparents may also want to look at ways they can benefit multiple generations by using vehicles such as family trusts, family “banks,” or funding 529 college savings plans. Encanto teaches us to think beyond what we can leave to only our children; there are multiple ways to help future generations as well, financially or otherwise.
Each Beneficiary Is Unique
Encanto’s soundtrack went viral, and the song “We Don’t Talk about Bruno” hit No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 200 chart. Bruno is the black sheep of the Madrigal family and can be viewed as a metaphor for any family’s marginalized members. Just like Bruno, there may be members of our own family whom we are reluctant to talk about—perhaps the one who is an embarrassment to the family because they have not lived up to expectations or followed societal norms. Still, we need to acknowledge that family members come in a lot of different flavors and be willing to recognize the good and potential in each of them, even if they do not fit the mold. Likewise, you should tailor your estate plan to fit each beneficiary’s individual needs. For example, an incentive trust or special needs trust may make sense for some beneficiaries to help them reach their potential, but it may not make sense for others.
Another cautionary tale from Encanto is about exerting control. Abuela Madrigal did not want to involve Bruno or Mirabel in the family endeavors because they did not conform to her idea of what they were supposed to do and how they were supposed to act. When designing your own estate plan, be careful about trying to exert control from the grave by requiring children or grandchildren to do or achieve certain things to qualify for their inheritance. At some point, you have to let people make their own choices and live their lives without punishing them for not conforming by withholding money or property.
Think Before Putting More Pressure on the “Strong” One
In Encanto, Luisa is the physically strong sibling. Most families have the characteristically “strong” child who takes on most of the responsibility along with most of the pressure. It is natural to appoint this responsible child as the trustee, the agent under a power of attorney, or in another fiduciary role in your estate plan. Yet, just as Luisa sings, “pressure that’ll tip, tip, tip till you just go pop,” sometimes we, too, assume that the “strong” or “responsible” one can continue taking on more responsibility. Think twice about whom you appoint as a trustee or fiduciary because that person might just be at their breaking point; maybe that responsibility is a load that can be shared.
If after watching Encanto you begin thinking about your estate plan and the kind of legacy that you want to leave for successive generations and the community, please contact us. We can help you ensure that your legacy is properly planned, administered, and enduring.
This article is a service of Stafford Law Firm. We do not just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love.
 Gary Trust, Encanto’s “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” Hits No. 1 on Billboard Global 200, Billboard (Feb. 7, 2022), https://www.billboard.com/music/chart-beat/we-dont-talk-about-bruno-encanto-number-one-global-200-1235028107/.