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Even a solid will like Robin William’s can be contested

While a will can help a family in New York avoid a legal battle after a loved one passes away, this legal document cannot always prevent against a problem. When world-famous actor Robin Williams died, his will and trust dictated that his estate go to his widow and his three children from different marriages.

Susan Schneider, William’s widow, lived with him at a home in Paradise Cay, and William’s trust allows Schneider to reside in the couple’s house while her expenses are paid for from a fund created by the late actor’s trust. Most of the possessions from the Paradise Cay house near Tiburon go to Schneider, but select personal items were left to the children as gifts in William’s trust. Some of the items intended for the children included jewelry, personal photos and awards, and a Napa Valley home last listed at $29.5 million and its contents was also left to his children.

Though it seemed that all his belongings and assets were accounted for, the family went to court when Schneider filed a suit in January 2015 alleging that the children wanted items from the couple’s house that were not willed to them. On March 30, a judge gave the family until June 1 to come to an agreement.

It seems that Williams wanted his spouse and children to have his property and personal items, but one usually does not have total freedom when dividing an estate. For example, many states have forced heirship laws that will not allow one to disinherit a spouse and sometimes children. An attorney might be able to help one ensure that any estate planning documents are in accordance with New York laws, and a mediator could help a family resolve issues with a will or trust out of court.

Fight over Robin Williams estate offers valuable lessons

When comedian and actor Robin Williams passed away, it seemed like his affairs were in order. He had prepared a will and specific trust agreements. He also had a prenuptial agreement in place. By most measures, it seemed as if he had done everything necessary to ensure that his estate would be distributed without conflicts or legal disputes. Despite his planning, though, his heirs still find themselves at odds with each other over Mr. Williams’s assets. The battles surrounding his estate provides valuable lessons for New York residents who are in the process of considering how their assets will be distributed when they die.

In many testamentary battles, the assets in dispute are big ticket items like homes, cars and money. That’s not the case with the current battle over the actor’s estate . Instead, his three children are fighting with Mr. Williams’s widow and third wife over personal items like memorabilia, bicycles, action figures, and more. Estate planning experts say that it’s not uncommon for families to fight over items that hold primarily sentimental value.

Individuals can avoid these disputes by making their will and trust documents as specific as possible. While it’s unlikely that people could specifically list every possession that they may own, they can address those items that may hold sentimental value. This is especially important in blended families where there may strained or complex relationships. Making the documents specific with regard to these items gives heirs little room to wage a battle.

It can also be helpful to have conversations with heirs before preparing documents, as a testator may be surprised to learn which items a child or spouse holds dear. An estate planning attorney can help facilitate these conversations by hosting a family meeting and then help to create documents that minimize the chance of subsequent family disputes.

Source: Time Magazine, “3 Things We Can Learn From Robin Williams’ Estate Battle” , Kerri Anne Renzulli, Feb. 4, 2015

Wills and the probate process

Individuals in New York who are estate planning and preparing a will may wonder what is involved in the probate process. Every will must go through probate before assets are distributed to heirs.

Probate is a process that is intended to ensure that individuals involved in the estate are protected and that the wishes of the individual who prepared the will are carried out. An executor appointed by the deceased individual may oversee the probate process through the courts. If there is no executor, the courts will appoint an administrator for similar duties. Costs associated with probate include court fees, attorney fees and any administrator fees.

As part of the probate process, it is necessary to collect all the assets of the estate and pay off all the debts, settle disputes and distribute assets to heirs. Although probate is usually an uncontested process, on occasion, it might be contested. An individual might raise an objection if the will is improperly prepared or if there is reason to believe the deceased individual was improperly influenced by another or was not of sound mind at the time the will was prepared.

There are a few other considerations in the probate process. For example, it may be difficult to disinherit some family members such as a spouse.

Individuals who are preparing a will may wish to consult an attorney to assist in preparing a document likely to move more smoothly through probate . For example, an individual who specifically wishes to disinherit a family member may need to specifically mention this intention in the will. This will make the individual’s wishes clear to the court. An attorney may also be helpful in other aspects of estate planning such as preparing end-of-life documents.

Family fights over inheritances

Baby boomers are estimated to receive a median amount of $64,000 from their parents as they pass away. With so much wealth being passed on from parents to adult children, fights over who should get what from their parents are becoming more common in New York and around the country. While many of these battles are continuations of sibling rivalries that have lasted for years, some of the conflict stems from the fact that many people are going through tough financial times.

According to a New York trusts and estates lawyer, people are willing to fight for whatever money that they can get and are not necessarily ashamed about making their intentions public or taking their siblings to court. While it was once considered shameful to fight over a will in court, more and more people are willing to contest a will if they feel they didn’t get their fair share from their parents.

Another reason why heirs may be willing to fight family members for their parents’ assets is because there is more wealth to share. Unlike previous generations, many middle class individuals owned a home, had a retirement account and had other valuable assets at the time of their death. In some cases, a parent may have passed down ownership of a profitable family business to one sibling but not others.

Timely estate planning and good communication between parents and children may make the passing of assets easier. It may also be worth looking into creating a trust with specific instructions that may be tougher to challenge when the person who created that trust passes. Many challenges to wills or trusts may be settled outside of the courtroom, and it may be worthwhile to talk to an probate attorney to come to a resolution.

Source:  Insurance News, “Inheritance conflicts pit relatives against one another “, Tim Grant, July 04, 2014