Family Feuding over Robin Williams’ Estate

RobinThere doesn’t appear to be much doubt that Robin Williams conveyed his estate plans to his family in the years before his tragic suicide last summer. His full estate was left to a trust, which his three adult children will inherit. There was a prenuptial agreement between Williams and his wife, Susan Schneider Williams, whom he married in 2011. And as part of his trust, another trust was established to support his wife in the event of his death. Williams also appears to have done his best to divvy up his personal possessions without resorting to listing each and every one. All clothing, jewelry, and photos he owned prior to his 2011 marriage to Schneider Williams? They go to the children. His awards and other career “memorabilia”? The kids get them. His possessions at a home he owned in Napa? The three children again. The Marin County home Robin Williams shared with his wife? Schneider Williams. The possessions in that residence? Well, excluding all of the above, those are hers. So where does that leave the tuxedo Williams wore at the couple’s wedding? Or his many collections of things like graphic novels, walking sticks, Japanese anime, and movie posters?

Well, in this case – court. In just four months after the comedian’s death, litigation has begun between Williams’ three children and his third wife. The recent slate.com article, titled “Robin Williams’ Family Is Like Yours says that a good talk with the family is the best way to avoid post-death struggles over your estate after you pass away. Sit down with your loved ones and tell them about your will, and how you’d like to see your belongings divided up. Convey some life values while you’re at it. You can even ask for their input.

After the death of a well-loved parent, family squabbles can erupt over vacation homes that have been in the family for generations—or things with much less value. These battles are often over items that aren’t financially worth an hour of the most inexpensive lawyer’s time!

As for Robin Williams’ possessions, the lawyers for Schneider Williams referred to the items as “knickknacks,” while, in their counter-filing, Williams’ children claim these possessions were “carefully amassed.” They say that their stepmother of less than three years had the possessions quickly appraised, and was motivated by greed.

The original article explains that even worthless possessions can become proxies for personal battles that are, sadly, never resolved. Second and third marriages—like those of Robin Williams—make things more complicated, but any family can have such headaches, too.  

Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney and get your plan in order. Then talk to your heirs so they know what to expect and are ready to deal with it.

For more information about estate planning, please visit my estate planning website.

Reference: slate.com (February 4, 2015) “Robin Williams’ Family Is Like Yours

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