Millions of fans mourned the 2014 death of actor Robin Williams – no one more so, perhaps, than his wife and his three children. Just a few months after his passing, however, the family he left behind became locked in a new and heated struggle: a dispute over how to interpret specific instructions in the actor’s estate plan.
Under the terms of Williams’ trust, according to news reports, his widow would receive their house in Tiburon, California and its contents upon his death. Meanwhile, the trust left the actor’s children his “clothing, jewelry, personal photos… memorabilia and awards in the entertainment industry and the tangible personal property located in [the house Williams owned in] Napa.”
Williams’ widow argued that “memorabilia” did not include what she called his “personal collections of knick-knacks,” which included his bicycle collection and other valuable items. She also argued that “jewelry” did not include the actor’s collection of watches. Williams’ three children disagreed. The dispute sparked subtle questions about who was allowed to appraise the contents of Williams’s homes – his trust, or appraisers hired separately by his widow?
After several months and at least one court date, the family finally settled out of court. The children received the bulk of Williams’ collections, and his wife kept a few items that had great sentimental value to her, such as the watch Williams frequently wore and a bicycle the couple had purchased together while on their honeymoon.
Williams’ widow will also keep their Tiburon home and “funds sufficient to allow her to remain in the home for her lifetime,” according to a statement released after the settlement was finalized.
The dispute at the heart of the case focused on the meanings of several seemingly-clear words, like “jewelry” and “memorabilia.” When he created the trust, Williams likely had very specific ideas in mind as to what those terms meant in the context of his estate. When it came time to execute his final wishes, however, the trust had to work with the words that appeared in the paperwork – which, in this case, proved too vague to prevent an argument and court battle.
At ILP, we strive to ensure that our clients’ planning documents are specific and clear, so that their wishes are respected and that their loved ones avoid disputes. Contact us today at (501) 221-7776 to learn more about how to plan your estate effectively.