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Prevent their grieving from becoming brawling

He rose like a sun from San Francisco, turning ideas about comedy inside out, backwards and upside down. Robin Williams' brilliant improvisational skills made him one of the brightest, enduring stars of American comedy. His death six months ago shocked and shook the nation.

Now his widow and three children are engaged in a California court battle over his belongings, even though Williams took care long before his death to create a detailed will, prenuptial agreement and trusts. A Time magazine article says the fight isn't over the big things -- the money he made and the property he owned -- but over what many people might consider little things.

The items that have reportedly prompted the legal wrangling include the late comedian's collections of bicycles, fossils and graphic novels. His widow, Susan Schneider Williams, was his third wife. She and the actor's three children -- Zak, Zelda, and Cody -- are in a struggle to hold on to the personal items that are sometimes more important to grieving family members than valuable big-ticket assets.

Time spoke with an attorney who helps plan estates about steps people can take to protect their loved ones from these kinds of battles.

First, think about which belongings are important to you and your family, including those things with great sentimental and monetary value. Include the items of sentimental value in your estate plan, including specific provisions in trusts created with your estate-planning attorney.

Ask heirs about items they would like in particular to one day possess. Be clear with the heirs about who will be involved in your decision-making process and who will not.

When you have made decisions about who gets specific items, make sure everyone knows. Don't keep your plans a secret to be unveiled upon your passing. Discuss your plans, get any disagreements out in the open and work through them now in order to spare your family the added grief -- and expense -- of litigation after you are gone.

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