The Robin Williams Estate: Words Matter!

Robin Williams’ estate plan is now being challenged by his widow.  Initially, his plan seemed complete - anticipatory of all possible events, and well thought out.  However, it was not specific and detailed enough to avoid a challenge by his widow.

Robin Williams left behind three surviving children, two ex-wives, and a widow.  He left his widow his primary residence in Tiburon, appraised at $7 million, and the right to draw enough cash from the estate to keep the house running for the rest of her life.  The rest of the estate was left to his three children, in equal shares.1

Prenuptial agreements and $30 million of alimony payments already paid during his lifetime prevented some headache for Robin’s estate planning attorneys, but the vague language in his final plan left room for his widow to challenge even the tiniest details.

The major problem with Robin’s plan is the ambiguity of the language in the documents.  For example, “all costs related to the residence” gave his widow a chance to demand that the Trustee of Robin’s Trust pay for a $30,000 renovation.  While some may say this is reasonable in a $7 million home, others may scoff at the request.  Either way, the vague language in the trust invites a challenge.

Another issue is the personal property in Robin’s Estate.  Robin left his widow the rights to the contents of his residence, but left his children rights to family memorabilia, some of which is in the residence.  The vague wording of the Trust in this section paves the way for an argument over to whom should the property in the house belong.  While the kids want to get the family memorabilia, the widow can argue to keep them out because it is part of the house contents, which belong to her.

Although we applaud Robin for his planning, it is an important lesson on the importance of words.  Words matter.  Every single one of them.  It is better to be specific and pay attention to even the slightest details, better to imagine every possible interpretation you can think of in different scenarios.  Where there is a will, there are relatives.  And when there is vagueness in documents, there are challenges.

-  Aubrey Mirkin, Esq.


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