The fact that the heirs of the late Robin Williams are now battling over their inheritances in court is no laughing matter. As the Hartford Courant pointed out in a recent article, while Williams’ estate plan was tax efficient, it may have been lacking in other areas.
For example, Williams’ widow and his three children from his first two marriages are reportedly fighting over who should be entitled to what when it comes to Williams’ personal property. Sadly, if Williams’ estate plan would have provided more details, the conflicts may have been avoided.
As one estate planning attorney told the Courant, it pays to be very specific when there is personal property that has a lot of sentimental or financial value such as photographs, sports memorabilia, antique collections, etc.
The good news is that this can be as simple as including a letter with the last will and testament explaining who should get what in layman’s terms.
Additionally, the Courant explained that setting intentions with heirs is also a good way of avoiding future conflict. As we discussed in a previous post on our blog, heirs often end up more satisfied with -- and less likely to fight over -- their inheritances when they knew what was coming.
Surprises about inheritances after a loved one dies -- especially when the loved one died unexpectedly -- tend to set off reactions fueled by emotions, which could be what is motivating Williams’ heirs.
Finally, in cases of blended families, there are certain estate planning levers that can be pulled to reduce conflict and make sure that everyone is provided for.
For example, the Courant pointed out that a Qualified Terminable Interest Property Trust, or QTIP trust, can be used to provide for the surviving spouse as long as her or she is living, and then make sure that assets ultimately transfer to the decedent’s children.
As you can see, while Robin Williams took the time to create a tax-efficient estate plan, there were clearly some important factors that were left out, including details regarding how his personal property should be divided, setting intentions with loved ones and taking advantage of estate planning levers for blended families.
Make sure that your estate plan covers all of you and your family’s needs by working with an experienced estate planning lawyer.