The unfortunate death of actor Robin Williams in August 2014 has sparked numerous articles, blogs and commentary on his life, family, comedy, mental illness, depression, and his estate plan.
Whenever a celebrity passes away, either by natural causes or prematurely by unfortunate circumstances or events, undoubtedly that celebrity’s estate plan will be scrutinized for months, if not years. If you were to Google “estate plan” for Philip Seymour Hoffman, Anna Nicole Smith, Michael Jackson, Leona Helmsley, Paul Walker, James Gandolfini or any other celebrity who has recently passed away, you will see what I mean.
Although we are fascinated by celebrities and their wealth, mansions, multi-million dollar vacation homes and kids, unfortunately sometimes people are more interested in their blunders. The blunders in the estate plans of celebrities such as Michael Jackson, Dale Earnhardt, Tom Carvel, Health Ledger, Jim Morrison, and Steve McNair have been well documented, which may allow us to learn from their mistakes.
What can we learn from Robin Williams’ estate plan? He did many things right in his estate plan and lucky for him and his family, some of his personal affairs have remained private, leaving many to merely speculate upon his actual net worth (reported to be between $25 and $130 million) and other financial details.
Robin Williams had a blended family, which for proper planning can be more difficult. Reports indicate that he set up separate trusts for his children and for his current spouse. Trusts are private in nature, unlike a Last Will and Testament that becomes public, so most of his affairs do not have to go through
California’s arduous and expensive probate process.
Unfortunately, according to one report, it seems that his trusts were revealed to the public because the original Trustee had died and his trust documents failed to name a successor Trustee, necessitating the petitioning of the California probate court to appoint a successor Trustee.
As sad and untimely as his death may have been, Robin William’s estate planning successes were:
- He was a financial success enabling him to take care of his family after his death;
- He planned in advance;
- He created trusts, keeping most of his affairs private;
- He planned for his blended family;
- He kept most of his affairs out of the probate court and thus public’s eye.
However, his estate plan could have been better if:
- His trust named a successor Trustee or was amended properly after the passing of Trustee.
Regardless of what Robin Williams did right or wrong in his estate plan, he will be remembered for his truly unique comedic genius, whose memory will last forever.
Kenneth C. Barney is a partner with the law firm of Rowley, Chapman & Barney, Ltd., who practices in family based estate planning, probate and trust administration.