We’re returning to our discussion of The Uniques (one, two), and this time we’re looking at a set of topics sort of implicit in the premise of the series but raised directly in a few places. Specifically, we’re looking at the way the series treats minors, both in general and in terms of inheritance.
I. Minors, Generally
There are a few things to talk about here. One is a fairly common trope, namely that these kids seem to have an awful lot of time in the middle of the day. The trope is so common in works dealing with teenagers as to be almost ubiquitous, but for a series that otherwise has things worked out pretty well, it’s a bit disappointing to see things done this way here. Maybe one of the benefits of registration is a waiver of compulsory attendance laws in favor of some specialized training? Could be, but it’s not discussed.
More generally, the main character’s younger sister seems to be gainfully employed as a stuntwoman in Hollywood. This is a natural fit for her, given that she’s a shapeshifter and thus the perfect body double, but the fact that she’s a minor makes her employment situation somewhat dodgy at best. She is portrayed as being somewhat off the radar, but unless she’s got a pretty good fake ID, it’s likely that someone would notice. Hollywood is actually one of the few industries that tends to be pretty conscientious about employing minors, probably because they do it so frequently and with such publicity. But similar things can be said of all the other characters. The main character is set up with her parents’ trust funds—curiously described as being the property of the state until she turns 18, but more on that in a moment. One of the others apparently has patent royalty income, and a third is some kind of secret agent for an unknown entity. We’re still learning about him. But others seem to be more or less vagrants, and it’s not clear what they do for money. Adults might find this life sort of difficult, and that goes double for minors. We’ve talked about minors and property ownership, minors and contract/labor laws, and even have a four part series on superpowered minors covering crimes, contracts, torts, and parents/guardians.
II. Minors and Trusts
There’s a possible further explanation that isn’t in the text which would make the main character’s suggestion that the property is controlled by the state even more plausible. Many wills don’t give the property to the heirs directly, but put in trust. Trusts are essentially arrangements where in one person, the “trustee,” has possession but not ownership of property to be used for the benefit of another, the “beneficiary.” Wealthy families have used these sorts of arrangements for a variety of reasons. On one hand, they can be a great way to avoid certain taxes, and that’s no mean thing. For another, they permit the person making the will, the “testator,” to exert some control over how the funds are used. This can be either because they have some long-term goal for the money, like setting up a perpetual scholarship, or because they simply don’t trust the beneficiary. So a parent might set up a trust for a child saying that the funds can only be used for housing and education. The child gets some real benefits but can’t blow the money on an epic weekend in Vegas or any other way of which the parent would not approve. Give an eighteen year old kid a million dollars, and the nineteen year old kid he turns into may be broke. But give an eighteen year old kid access to money he can use to pay for college, and he might just graduate.
But here’s the thing: Most wills that involve trusts have designated trustees. Sometimes it’s a trusted friend or family member, other times it’s the lawyer who created the will, or a professional trust service, which is commonly offered by banks. Doesn’t really matter. But what if no trustee is appointed? Or what if the trustee dies? Here, the main character’s parents were members of an international superhero organization and were friends with many in the unique community. What if they named another unique as the trustee, and that unique died in the events which killed the parents? Well, what would happen is that the court would appoint a trustee. Could be anyone really, but it’s frequently an attorney in the relevant legal community. So if that’s what happened, the fact that the trustee is court appointed but not actually a government employee might easily escape the notice of a teenager.
Further, we’re talking about a world which has taken official and legal notice of uniques. Who’s to say there hasn’t been some evolution in trusts and estates law as well? For instance, what if Pennsylvania has a law saying that uniques’ exotic property or crimefighting estates have to use a government-appointed or government-employed trustee. This isn’t too far-fetched; many governments already have public trustee offices. One can see the government not wanting this sort of stuff to fall into superpowered minors’ hands without some ability to control it. And given the rather close ties that the unique community seems to have amongst itself and the degree to which they are involved in matters of national security, the government might be justified in deciding that it’s not going to let those estates just go without some official oversight. Again, this isn’t in the text, but it’s certainly compatible with it and would explain a few things.
Regardless, hypothesizing the creation of some sort of trust, however administered, helps explain why the kids don’t really have the use of the facilities. Even if they’re being held in trust for the benefit of the girls, any use they make of the property is going to need to be discussed with and approved by the trustee, who might well be a government employee. Given what the main character wants to do with her time, it’s highly unlikely that the trustee would go along with this, and there isn’t really any way she could make him. The trustee is going to say “Go to school, keep your head down, and cooperate with the authorities.” She wants to get out there, fight crime, and take up her parents’ mantle. No judge is going to override a trustee that just wants the girls to be safe and well taken care of, so for all intents and purposes, the trust and its funds are off-limits.
So The Uniques’ treatment of legal issues related to minors is a bit more uneven than some of the other things it’s handled, but (1) most of this is well within the boundaries of the way works of fiction treat kids (Truancy? Schmuancy!), and (2) the way it handles the estate is plausible, particularly given that the main character is a teenager and might not know (or care) what’s actually going on.