by Estate Planning Attorney Nydia Menendez

Sharon Mae Disney

Walt Disney passed away in 1966 at the young age of 65. His Estate was valued at 23 million dollars. Walt was a good steward; he had done Estate Planning which left half his wealth to charity – an excellent way to reduce taxes. The other half went to his wife and two daughters, Diane and Sharon, in a Trust.

So, why am I talking about this famous Estate? Because even though Walt Disney did good planning, the youngest daughter – Sharon – may not have done so well!

In 1993, Sharon died. Her Trust fund included Disney stock for her three children, stipulating that they would receive distributions every five years beginning at age 35.

So far, so good.

The Trustees were instructed to withhold distributions if the children did not show … “maturity and financial ability to manage and utilize such funds in a prudent and responsible manner.”

It sounds like Sharon had good intentions, but we all know the saying: the road to disaster is paved with good intentions.

When Sharon died, her widower Bill was the Trustee of their children’s Trusts. So, what’s a widower to do? Re-marry!

Bill’s fifth wife was Sherry. When time for distributions to the children came, Bill and Sherry determined that Brad – the middle child – was not mature and financially competent enough, so his portion was reduced drastically.

Sherry and Bill said their intent was to protect Brad, but Brad disagreed and took the matter to court. Not surprisingly, Brad made all kinds of accusations, including that Sherry and Bill were guided by greed. Shocking, right? Ummm. No. Not at all.

This battle went on for years. Stepfathers, stepmothers, sons and daughters… what a mess!

Unfortunately, Sharon never took into consideration the effects of extended families, and the Trust did not clearly define what constituted “maturity and financial ability.”

So, the moral of this famous Estate is simple: Be very clear in the wording of your Estate Plan.

What does “maturity” really mean? Maybe terms and conditions that can be objectively measured, like “must have a college degree” or “must be free from drug, alcohol and gambling addiction” would have more clearly spelled out what Sharon had in mind.

Some say to be careful about putting in-laws in charge. Not me. I say be careful about putting greedy in-laws in charge! It’s the greed that becomes a problem.

Lastly, take time to think of all the people who will impact and be impacted by the terms of your Trust. Money has a way of turning the tide.

How Can You Get Started with Your Estate Plan?

If you want to learn more about how to plan for your future to make sure you remain in control of your decisions while leaving a lasting legacy for your family, then we invite you to call our office at (954) 963-7220 to speak with a member of the Menéndez Law Firm. You may also want to watch the video series on our YouTube channel where we talk about Estate Planning in detail. Or if you would like to join us for the next live Wills, Trusts and Estate Planning webinar on Zoom you can register at no charge on our website

Nydia Menedez Nydia Menéndez
Estate Planning Attorney
Menéndez Law Firm
2699 Stirling Road, Suite B200
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33312
Tel.: (954) 963-7220
Fax:  (954) 963-7232
menedez law firm