Good Will? Hunting…

The wonderfully talented Robin Williams died in August, 2014. His kids and his third wife (the widow) were in court in December. It just took 4 months for the family to start fighting.

It seems that the late actor owned two homes and that there were lots of personal possessions, memorabilia and other items inside both of them. According to media accounts, family members entered and removed some of the property shortly after Mr. Williams died. One side claimed the items were left to them, and the other party said “not so.”  Why is no one surprised by this?

The unfortunate truth is that the case is not at all unusual, especially the scenario of adult children from different marriages versus the latest wife who is not the mother of any of the kids. The widow and the deceased had been married only about three years when he died. His huge wealth and most of his property were acquired prior to the marriage. One would think a pre-nuptial agreement had been entered into prior to the marriage, too, but that detail has not yet appeared in media reports.

What can we learn from the Williams situation? Among the lessons are these: (1) pre-nups are excellent tools that clarify the rights of the surviving spouse to money, property and possession of the home; (2) if you know what you want your kids to have of your personal items, consider giving those items to the kids during your lifetime; (3) update your Will and/or Trust whenever a major life event occurs (such as a marriage, birth or adoption of a child, death of an intended beneficiary and the acquisition of valuable real estate or other assets of substantial value); (4) never underestimate the sentimental value of personal items; (5) if tension between the new spouse and the kids is obvious, talk to your estate planning attorney about taking steps to minimize the opportunity for conflict between the various family members; (6) you can’t take it with you!

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