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Estate planning ideas from the Robin Williams case

02/13/2015 | Estate Planning

The late Robin Williams had prepared for his eventual death with careful estate planning, drawing up an estate plan that included a prenuptial agreement, trusts and an updated will. Even his careful preparations did not prevent well-publicized squabbles. Estate plans focus on high monetary value items. However, the personal items often cause disagreements. Californians can learn three things from this example for their own estate planning.

First, it can be beneficial to identify what non-titled property is important for the family legacy. Some estates may be able to avoid disputes if the planner discusses the distribution of assets with the potential heirs. This may help certain sentimental or niche possessions find their way to individuals who would value them the most.

Secondly, a benefactor might try to devise a clear, consistent and fair system of distribution to forestall arguments. One method is a number-drawing rotation system, where heirs select one item at a time until all items have been distributed. Alternately, potential heirs could be asked what they think a fair system would be.

The third suggestion is to be transparent about the process and share the information with heirs to avoid family disputes. Grantors may benefit from making a detailed list that includes pictures. This list should be signed, dated and attached to the will. In order for the list to serve its purpose, it must be acknowledged in the will.

A lawyer might be able to help with many complex estate planning issues, such as drafting the plan in a way that might avoid unnecessary taxation. That lawyer could draw up personal directives, such as a living will, power of attorney, health proxy and wills. Finally, the lawyer may help the family after the loss of a loved one with will execution, distribution of assets and strategies to preserve assets.