Like millions around the world, you were undoubtedly saddened to hear about the death of acting legend Robin Williams. Know equally well as a comedic actor for parts in films such as Mrs. Doubtfire and The Birdcage as he was as a dramatic actor for films such as Dead Poet’s Society and Good Will Hunting, there is little doubt that Williams will be missed by many. Not long after the news of his death made the airwaves, details of his estate also began to surface. As the famous and infamous know, the public seems to have a morbid curiosity about what the rich and famous leave behind when they die. For this reason, celebrities and the very wealthy usually go to great lengths to keep the details of their estate plans confidential and away from the public venue, begging the question – why are we reading about the details of Williams’ trusts in the media? Unfortunately, the answer to that points to faulty estate planning.
Williams left behind three children — Zachary, 31; Zelda, 25 and Cody, 22 – for whom he appears to have tried to provide responsibly based on the terms of the two irrevocable trusts he set up for them in 1989 and 2009. Wisely, Williams did not simply gift large sums of money to his children when they reached the legal age of majority. Instead, Williams provided for a one-third distribution of the trust principal at age 21, one-half at age 25, and the remainder at age 30. Prior to the first distribution, the children were entitled to discretionary income payments for their “health, education, support and maintenance”. While this all sounds like responsible estate planning, the problem is that we (the public) should not know any of this.
Along with numerous other advantages to creating a trust, one significant benefit is that a trust should remain private. Unlike your Last Will and Testament, a trust is not required to go through probate. As such, a trust agreement should never become public record; yet, both of Williams’ trusts did become public record because of the death of a co-trustee. Because the trust agreement failed to provide a mechanism by which a successor trustee could be named the surviving co-trustee was forced to petition a court to appoint a successor trustee, a move that then made the trusts public record.
If you plan to include a trust in your estate plan be sure to consult with an experienced Missouri estate planning attorney to ensure that you will actually reap all of the benefits to using a trust.