The Kids v. the New Wife - Robin Williams’ Estate under Dispute

February 16th 2015

Six months after the death of Robin Williams, his children, Zak-31, Zelda-25 and Cody-23, from his previous two marriages enter into a bitter battle with his widow, Mrs. Susan Schneider Williams, his third wife, over his estate.
Robin Williams had a successful lifelong career through which he amassed a net worth of about $50 Million. Funny-guy Williams also had a sensible head on his shoulders because he had a solid estate plan in place which included several trusts.

One trust called Domus Dulcis Domus Holding Trust (Home Sweet Home) contained his real estate properties. Another was created for Williams’ three children and was to pay out (whether he was alive or dead) when they reached the ages of 21, 25 and 30. 
A few years ago, Williams amended the second trust originally set up for his three children to include provisions for his wife Susan. According to the updated trust, she would be provided her own separate trust called the ‘Susan Trust’ which contained the home they lived in and the contents within ‘subject to certain restrictions’. She was also to be provided with enough finances (liquid or otherwise) to cover all costs related to the residence for the duration of her lifetime. It looked like Williams made sure everyone was provided for. A Forbes article written after his death stated the importance of such planning. 

“While nothing can make the horrific loss of Robin Williams better for his family, at least he appears to have taken the proper steps with his legal planning to avoid the pain from becoming worse. Because of his foresight, Robin Williams’ family can focus on grieving and not have to worry about unnecessary complications with his estate.” What's Next For Robin Williams' Family And Estate? Danielle and Andy Mayoras Forbes Magazine, August 12, 2014. 
Unfortunately, the praise may have been a bit premature. 

The amended trust stated that all “clothing, jewelry, and personal photos taken prior to his marriage to Susan” belonged to his children at the time of his death. Also, his memorabilia and awards in the entertainment industry and any items he kept at his home in Napa County, California, were to go to his children. 

In December and January, court documents revealed a battle between Robin Williams’ widow and his children. The dispute wasn’t over big ticket items but over personal effects like clothing, photographs and collectibles. Williams’ collection, which included bicycles, graphic novels and other items gathered over the years, was highly desirable by both parties because they were characteristic of the actor’s quirky and imaginative personality.

Unfortunately, as airtight as trusts can be, there are a few holes that can open the doors for a dispute. In this case, the ambiguity of what constituted personal belongings reared its ugly head. Despite carefully laid plans to limit dispute and maintain the privacy of his family, this decision will most likely be made by a probate court that will interpret the trust and decide what Robin Williams’ wishes really were.

Klueger & Stein, LLP helps clients develop strategically sound estate plans, always keeping potential pitfalls and clients’ privacy in mind.