Not only is Disney’s award-winning animated film Encanto hugely entertaining, but it also contains the following valuable estate planning lessons:
Friday night is movie night for our family. Some movies are better than others. As an Estate Planning Attorney in Austin, I often get through the bad ones with a sidecar or old fashioned...or both. And, by thinking about the estate planning needs of the different characters. Encanto was the rare good film where I found myself doing this exercise albeit with a sidecar.
In Encanto, the Madrigal family had received a “miracle,” and family members received unique “gifts” associated with the miracle. The Madrigal family 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. A legacy that will not only impact your immediate family but can also benefit the community for generations to come. For examaple, the Carnegie Foundation funds libraries and learning centers around the country. And, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which fights poverty, disease, and inequity worldwide..
But you do not have to be a billionaire to establish a family foundation. Family foundations are an effective way to involve your family in establishing a charitable legacy that can benefit the community. In its simplest terms, a family foundation is a means of providing charity funded with family assets. The foundation also often employs family members to work for its cause.
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.
In Encanto, Abuela was just as concerned about her grandchildren and helping them obtain and properly use their gifts as her children. Although designing an estate plan that benefits only your children is typical, grandparents may also want to look at ways to help 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 financially or otherwise.
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 once could view him as a metaphor for any family’s marginalized members. 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 many 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 suit 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 estate plan, be careful about exerting 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.
In Encanto, Luisa is a physically strong sibling. Most families have a characteristically “strong” child who takes on most of the responsibility and 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. Perhaps you could assign multiple parties this responsibility as joint fiduciaries. Think twice about whom you appoint as a trustee or fiduciary. That person might just be at their breaking point.
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 you create an appropriately planned, administered, and enduring legacy.
 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/.
(By Appointment Only)
14425 Falcon Head Blvd
Austin, TX 78738