When a celebrity passes away, media outlets generally run two kinds of stories. The first deals with how beloved the athlete or entertainer was while listing their honors and achievements, and the second concerns their estate planning acumen or lack thereof. Nevada residents will likely have read about the estate planning gaffes of the actors James Gandolfini and Philip Seymour Hoffman, and they may have learned recently about the prudent use of living trusts by the legendary basketball coach Dean Smith. However, the feud between the widow and children of Robin Williams over the contents of a California residence does not fit neatly into a good or poor estate planning narrative.
Williams appears to have taken a pragmatic and considerate approach, and his estate plan included a detailed last will and testament as well as a trust for his wife. Williams’ will left his children property including photographs and memorabilia, but his widow believes that some of the items being taken by the children from the couple’s Tiburon home were left to her.
A March 30 judicial ruling gave the parties two months to settle the dispute, and the judge recommended that a mediator be called in if an amicable resolution remained elusive. The ruling came after Williams’ widow and her stepchildren made it clear that they did not wish the matter to be decided in court.
The items at issue in this case have more sentimental than financial value, and the dispute is likely exacting a high emotional toll on all parties concerned. While attorneys will stress the importance of well drafted estate planning documents, they will also often advise benefactors to discuss their wishes frankly with family members. This kind of open conversation could allow areas of potential disagreement to be identified and resolved.