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Battle over Robin Williams' estate a teachable moment

Delaware residents may have heard that Robin Williams' family is engaged in a legal war over his estate. Though the comedian had a current estate plan and will, his third wife and three children are battling over personal items, such as his clothing, fossil collection, graphic novels and bicycles.

The public squabble over Williams' personal possessions provides a lesson for those planning their estate. When people think about distributing their assets after death, they tend think only of obvious items such as a home, bank accounts and investments. However, smaller items with sentimental value often become a point of family contention. Therefore, when making provisions for the distribution of property, people may want to take steps to avoid unnecessary conflict.

Those bequeathing personal items should carefully consider which things are most important and who should get them. For example, if someone has a large vinyl record collection, they may wish to leave it to a music-loving family member. However, if the record collection is likely to be sold, another heir might benefit most. It is also helpful to directly ask heirs what items mean the most to them. For personal possessions not individually bequeathed, a system of division should be outlined. For instance, a draft system where family members choose desired items one by one in rounds could be used. Again, asking heirs for their input on a division system can help avoid future resentment.

Once a plan is chosen, it should be put in writing, signed, dated and attached to the individual's current will. To avoid any disputes, heirs should be told the details of the plan in advance. Planning for the distribution of assets can be a complex process, and an attorney who has experience with these matters can be of assistance.

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

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