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Yesterday, a San Francisco Superior Court judge ruled that the children and widow of Robin Williams will have until July 29th to reach an agreement on their dispute over the late, Oscar-winning actor’s estate. The vast majority of the estate, valued at around $100 Million, was to be divided among his three children, Zachary, 31, Zelda, 25, and Cody, 23.
A separate trust had been created for his widow and third wife, Susan Schneider Williams. This trust stated that she could remain in their home for the rest of her life, with all of its expenses covered.
Schneider Williams filed a petition in December claiming her husband’s documents were “ambiguous” in some areas, including who should receive many of his personal effects, such as his watch collection. While she agreed that he intended for his children to get the contents of the family’s Napa estate, she doesn’t believe that the same goes for the contents of the couple’s Tiburon home. The petition also claims that “thousands — if not tens of thousands — of individual items of personal property” were removed from the house by Robin Williams’ Trustees.
The children believe that their father intended for them to have all of his memorabilia and personal collections amassed over many years, which predated his third marriage. There is also disagreement over how much money Schneider Williams should receive during her lifetime.
If the two parties are unable to reach a deal through mediation by the July deadline, the courts will have to decide the outcome.
Cases like these underscore the importance of solid estate planning, especially for blended families. Also, it must be remembered that estate planning is a process that must change as life circumstances change, and for many families, review and updating the estate planning frequently may be the wisest course of action.
The dispute over the personal effects could have been avoided by clear language in Robin Williams’ Will or Revocable Trust. It could have said that the children receive all of his movie and other memorabilia, located at anywhere, including, but not limited to, the Napa Estate and the Tiburon Home.
Moreover, for many blended families, it is sometimes clearer to leave the second or third spouse a lump sum of money, rather than provide for distributions from a trust that is controlled by a third party and which is overseen by the children from a prior marriage. For more information, please take a look at our Blended Family Basics brochure.