Celebrity Family at War Over Estate

February 6, 2015

Authored by: Stacie J. Rottenstreich and Karin Barkhorn

The untimely death of Robin Williams shocked and distressed many of his admirers. Now six months after his death many of his admirers are further distressed by the legal battle between Williams’s widow and his children from prior marriages.

Mr. Williams seems to have gone to great lengths to care for and protect his three children from two different marriages. Yet, he also made provisions for his wife. His home in Tiburon, California, along with its contents, subject to certain reservations, was to pass to his wife on his death. However, the trust which, according to news sources, disposes of this home and its contents also provides that his children are to receive his clothing, jewelry and personal photos taken prior to his last marriage as well as his “memorabilia and awards in the entertainment industry”.

Williams’s widow contends that his children came into her home soon after the suicide and wrongfully took property that should belong to her from the home. The children counter that the trustees acted within their authority in granting them access to the home and these items. What does the word memorabilia cover?

Mr. Williams’s widow says it does not include his personal collection of knickknacks and his jewelry does not include his watch collection. His children disagree. The knickknacks in questions seem to be quite valuable. It may be hard to determine which of these items are related to his acting career and which are not.

The trust for Mr. Williams’s widow was also to be funded with sufficient money to cover and pay for the “costs related to the residence”. The widow insists that this should include all expenses associated with daily upkeep as well as unexpected renovation and improvement. The children feel this is way too broad a reading of the words.

Estate planning for individuals who are married, yet have children from prior marriages can often be complicated. The decedent wants to take care of both his current spouse and his children. Robin Williams was certainly in this category, making provisions for both his widow and his three children. Someone in a similar situation should be sure to retain legal counsel and make his or her intentions clear so that the attorney can properly draft the necessary documents to prevent confusion after the client’s death.

We will all remember Mr. Williams for the enormous amount of creative work he has left behind as his legacy. Unfortunately his legacy is now tinged with his suicide and the very public fight between his children and his widow over the disposition of his estate.