Robin Williams first made his way into the hearts of the American public in his role as “Mork” on the hit television series “Mork & Mindy” during the late 1970s – and he never left. Williams went on to gain public applause for his hilarious comedic talents as well as critical acclaim for his dramatic roles in films such as Dead Poets Society and Awakenings. Sadly, the actor/comedian committed suicide in his home on August 11, 2014 after a long battle with depression. Given Williams’ financial success it should come as no surprise that his loved ones were in court several months after his death fighting over estate assets. What may be surprising though is the fact that the fight over sentimental assets is what landed them in court.
At the time of his death Williams was married to his third wife, Susan Schneider. Although Williams and Schneider never had children, he had three from previous marriages — one from his first marriage and two from his second marriage. The conflict between Schneider and the children (now adults) illustrates what occurs all too often when a decedent leaves behind a spouse and children from a previous relationship. Although the conflict between second spouses and pre-existing children is well-known, and frequently considered when creating an estate plan, people often fail to realize that it is not always the high ticket assets that cause the controversy. probate court.
In Williams’ case it was the tuxedo he wore at his wedding to Schneider. Williams clearly considered the possibility of contention between his spouse and children in the event of his death because his estate plan left the clothing, jewelry and personal items that he had amassed before his third marriage to his children while leaving his home and its contents to his wife. The problem? The tuxedo was hanging in the home so was it left to his wife or to his children? Both sides laid claim to the tuxedo, landing them all in court to battle it out. While it may be true that even the smallest of personal items owned by Robin Williams has monetary value, the family is fighting over them because of the sentimental value they hold.
The Robin Williams story illustrates all too well a common problem in estate planning – overlooking the small things. All too often people focus on the big ticket items – things such as the house, stocks and bonds, retirement accounts, and life insurance policies – and forget to include the smaller, sentimental items that may have even more value to loved ones after death.
There are several ways to handle those smaller items in an estate plan. Only you and your estate planning attorney can decide which way is best for you; however, the important lesson to learn from Williams’ estate is that those sentimental assets likely have far more meaning than you realize and should be included one way or another in your estate plan.
If you have additional questions or concerns about your Missouri estate plan, contact the experienced Missouri estate planning attorneys at Amen, Gantner & Capriano, Your Estate Matters, LLC by calling (314) 966-8077 to schedule an appointment.