The estate litigation that arose following the 2014 death of actor and comedian Robin Williams has come to an end after the parties involved agreed to a settlement. The dispute, which went to court in late 2014, primarily involved who would retain possession over some of Williams’s personal property. The battle erupted when Williams’s widow, Susan Schneider Williams, and his children from two previous marriages could not come to an agreement over who was entitled to receive the property.
After Williams died in August of 2014, he left behind an estate worth an estimated $100 million or more. The estate included his Tiburon, California home, which he had shared with Mrs. Williams since getting married three years prior. The Williams estate plan left the home to Mrs. Williams for the rest of her life, after which will go to Williams’s three children from previous marriages. The bulk of the actor’s estate also went to his children—Cody, Zachary, and Zelda—including his “memorabilia and awards in the entertainment industry,” as well as clothing, jewelry, and personal photos from before his marriage to Mrs. Williams.
Estate Dispute and Settlement
The dispute in the case arose because Williams also left his wife some personal property located in the Tiburon home, as well as money to maintain it. Mrs. Williams claimed she was entitled to money to cover the costs of renovations and daily upkeep, as well as some personal items the children later claimed to be theirs.
Though the specific details of the settlement agreement have not been released, Mrs. Williams released a statement that shed some light on the terms. Mrs. Williams kept a watch that Williams often wore, a bicycle the couple purchased on their honeymoon (Williams was an avid cyclist), as well as some other “emotional items” that she had requested.
While the majority of estates do not have to go through litigation, the risks that litigation might arise are always present. There is no real way to absolutely prevent litigation, but there are ways to guard against it. There are also factors involved that make litigation more or less likely to arise.
For example, litigation is more likely to arise in cases where there is a large estate at stake. Similarly, if there are pre-existing family conflicts, such as is common in situations involving blended families, additional precautions may be necessary to prevent costly legal fights.
A good litigation prevention plan will involve a variety of steps. Not only will you need to create a comprehensive state plan, but you’ll also need to update it and keep it current whenever a significant change in life events take place, such as a divorce and new marriage. Also, making your plan, or at least your choices, known to your family ahead of time is often a simple way to make sure everyone knows what you want, and will therefore be less likely to fight over your wishes.
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