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Robin Williams estate dispute stems from ambiguous language

The late Robin Williams had an estate plan in place when he died last August, but it seems his plan was not clearly laid out enough to prevent a legal dispute after his death.

Susan Schneider Williams, the third wife of the late actor, filed a petition back in December seeking clarification of a trust document with respect to the division of personal property at the home he shared with her at his death. Susan Schneider Williams apparently claims that her late husband wanted his children to have the assets in the family’s estate but not the items at their home in Tiburon. 

The value of the items, which allegedly include jewelry, clothing, awards, and various collections, is likely nothing to sneeze at. The trustee for Williams’ three children had reportedly sought access to those assets last September after Williams’ death, but access was refused. The children, for their part, claim that many of the items at the home were obtained over his many years, prior to Williams’ marriage to Susan Schneider, and were bequeathed to them as jewelry and memorabilia. It will be interesting to see how the court deals with the language ambiguity in this case.

Doing a post-mortem analysis of a celebrity’s estate plan is easy and fun, but in some respects unfair since it isn’t always easy to plan for what could happen after one’s death. Even the best estate planning is not always able to prevent legal disputes from arising. That being said, a little well-thought out planning can go a long way.

One important point to realize about estate planning is that, when it is done early and reviewed on an ongoing basis, it can help prevent a lot of problems after one’s death. This is the case whether you have significant wealth or only several valuable items to your name. Another important point is that drafting clear, unambiguous documents for one’s estate plan may not be a fun thing to do—making clear decisions about who gets what can be difficult—but putting clear language in place can help reduce the difficulties you put your family through after your death. 

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