by Estate Planning Attorney Nydia Menendez
When Robin Williams performed his comedy and acting, he relied on precise language delivered with perfect timing. Unfortunately, those concepts didn’t make it to Williams’ Estate Plan. Ambiguous words and phrases in his documents created agony, fighting, and great expense for the heirs of the estimated fifty million dollars in assets Robin Williams left behind.
For example, one of Williams’ homes was given to his widow, Susan Schneider-Williams. The Trust stated that Susan would receive the home and, “all costs related to the residence,” for life. But do those words mean the estate should cover the thirty thousand dollars in renovations Susan wanted? She said “Yes.” Robin’s three children, who were also his heirs, said “No.”
Or how about the word “jewelry”? Robin left that to his children. His widow, however, made a claim that this should not include his collection of watches. What do you think? Are watches jewelry?
The parties also fought over the word “memorabilia,” which Robin specifically left to his children. They felt this should include his world-class assortment of surprisingly valuable items such as comic books, army men, and unique nick knacks. Not surprisingly, Susan, the widow, thought differently. She interpreted “memorabilia” to be only articles related to Robin’s acting career.
So, who got to make these decisions? You guessed it – the court. And court means attorneys, and attorneys mean fees … hefty fees. In addition, disputes like these always destroy relationships. How sad that Robin Williams’ children and widow could no longer comfort each other in their common loss of a husband and father, but rather had to fight it out, publicly, in the legal system.
Perhaps the saddest part is that all this could have been avoided easily, if Robin and his advisors would have spent a few extra hours clearly defining his wishes and documenting them in his Estate Plan. It would have been so much better for Robin to do that while he was still alive, than for lawyers and judges to figure it out after his death. The dispute ended up with a settlement, but it involved a lot of publicity and discontent between family members. Without a doubt, a result Robin Williams was trying to avoid by doing Estate Planning.
The lessons of this story for all of us are obvious. Everyone needs an Estate Plan. And to ensure our wishes are met, our heirs understand exactly what we want, and our legacy remains one of peace, that Plan must be written so absolutely nothing is vague. While this doesn’t always make all the heirs happy, at least there is clarity. And accomplishing this is not difficult when you have someone guiding you through the process.
So, take a lesson from a very funny man who knew the value of precise language but somehow let that knowledge slip in one important matter: When you prepare your Estate Plan, be sure every detail is well defined.
How Can You Get Started with Your Estate Plan?
If you want to learn more about how to plan for your future to make sure you remain in control of your decisions while leaving a lasting legacy for your family, we invite you to call our office at (954) 963-7220 to speak with a member of the Menéndez Law Firm. You may also want to watch the video series on our YouTube channel where we talk about Estate Planning in detail. Or if you would like to join us for the next live Wills, Trusts and Estate Planning webinar on Zoom you can register at no charge on our website www.menendezlawfirm.com
Estate Planning Attorney
Menéndez Law Firm
2699 Stirling Road, Suite B200
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33312
Tel.: (954) 963-7220
Fax: (954) 963-7232