What We Can Learn From Robin Williams’ Estate Problems

Business man pointing to transparent board with text: Estate PlaWhen a grieving family gets hit with unwelcome surprises, things can get ugly. The loss of a loved one is painful, but the process of fighting over sentimental and valuable estate items (from mother’s favorite tea cup to her million dollar beach house) can break the happiest of families in two. The consequences of inadequate estate planning are seen all the time, yet it continues to happen to even the most conscientious planners. Celebrity estate planning disasters are often sensationalized, taking center stage on tabloid magazine covers. However, we can learn from their mistakes.

Robin Williams’ tragic suicide last August shocked millions. Prior to his death, Williams took extra precautions to ensure his estate would be divided fairly among his children and widow. The tax-efficient plan, which included a real estate holding trust and covered everything from his mansion to his memorabilia, seemed water-tight. Unfortunately, his family didn’t think so. What was responsible for the family feud? Basically, it boils down to individual, sentimental items. Not the mansion. Not the cars. Williams’ widow has requested that the jewelry bequeathed to his three children exclude his watch collection. In addition, she is requesting clarification on what exactly is included in “memorabilia.” In fact, the ongoing battle over these items landed the estate’s and heirs’ attorneys in front of a probate judge in San Francisco’s Superior Court last month.

Avoid “General” Language in Estate Plans

What can we learn from the Williams’ family estate problems? For starters, when creating an estate plan it’s a good idea to steer clear of “general” language. Clear and specific words should be used to ensure there is no question as to what is supposed to go to whom. For example, instead of saying “jewelry,” you should specify each item or category of jewelry included in the estate plan. The watch collection goes to my son. The pearl earrings go to my daughter, Sara. The diamond necklace goes to my daughter, Beth. As you can probably surmise from the above example, there can be consequences to a statement as general as the jewelry goes to my children.”

Consider a QTIP or Revocable Trust

There are myriad things to take into consideration when setting up an estate plan, especially for blended families. There are also many excellent tools for dealing with even the most complicated situations. For example, a Qualified Terminable Interest Property Trust (QTIP) is an effective tool for blended families because it maintains control of the trust’s assets but provides for the surviving spouse until his or her death. Revocable trusts can be useful in avoiding probate. Wills and trusts can also be supplemented with guidance memos to provide greater clarity. In addition, one of the simplest ways to prevent family feuds once you’ve passed on is by talking to your loved ones now. Set expectations. If your family has some idea of what goes where, it will set the stage for a more peaceful distribution of assets once you’re gone.

Call the Law Offices of Andrew M. Lamkin P.C.

Estate planning can be a complicated and overwhelming process, but it doesn’t have to be. A skilled estate planning attorney will give you peace of mind that your family will be provided for and that your wishes will be honored once you are gone. Call the Law Offices of Andrew M. Lamkin for a free consultation about your estate planning needs today.

Like us on facebook