When Robin Williams took his own life last August, he appeared to have all his affairs in order. His estate plan was clear about what he intended to leave to each of his three children, as well as to his wife, to whom he had been married for just three years.
But Susan Williams, Robin’s widow, started legal proceedings just before Christmas, contesting some of the provisions of his plan. What went wrong? And what can other estate planners and their clients learn from Williams’ missteps?
Williams’ estate plan was carefully and deliberately drawn up, including various trusts to benefit his three children and Susan. The trust established for his wife permits Susan to reside in the couple’s home in Tiburon, California, for the remainder of her life.
The trustees — Williams’ accountant and his estate planning attorney — were instructed to establish a fund to pay “all costs related to the residence,” for the rest of her life. She was also to receive the furniture, furnishings, and the contents of the Tiburon house, with the exception of items gifted to his children.
Robin Williams also owned an estate in Napa Valley, and he left that home and all its contents to the three children, in trust. The trust also listed items that he wanted to pass to his three children. Among them: his “clothing, jewelry, personal photos taken prior to his marriage to Susan;” “memorabilia and awards in the entertainment industry; plus tangible personal property located” in the Napa house.
That all seems reasonable and clear – except that in December, Susan Williams asked a probate court in California to take jurisdiction over the trust and interpret various provisions that she believes are in dispute. The three children filed a response through their own attorneys in opposition to Susan’s court filing.