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Lessons from family dispute over Robin Williams' estate plan

Delaware residents who are starting to plan on how their assets will be distributed when they die may be able to learn some lessons from the family conflicts over the estate plan of the late comedian and actor Robin Williams. Even though Williams had an estate plan that appeared to specifically provide for both his current wife and his children from a former marriage, his survivors are now arguing over certain items in the home that his wife inherited under the provisions of a trust that he had in place.

Individuals should keep a few tips in mind in order to reduce the chances of disputes about their estate plan. For example, they should be aware that it may not be possible in some states to disinherit spouses or children. Furthermore, assets such as retirement accounts or insurance policies are distributed through beneficiary designations, regardless of any provision to the contrary in a will. Similarly, property that is jointly held with rights of survivorship will go to the other property holder.

For those who die without a valid will, the state will distribute the estate to the decedent's next of kin under the applicable intestacy statute. People may also want to consider trusts in some circumstances, as they often provide more flexibility than a will in such matters as the timing of distributions to beneficiaries.

Those who are contemplating the preparation of their estate plan may wish to consult an attorney to discuss the options available for distribution of assets. The example of Robin Williams demonstrates that even what looks like an organized estate plan may result in family squabbles. Therefore, it may also be important for individuals to discuss their wishes and their estate plan with family members to ensure that their wishes are understood and that there are no surprises. Good communication with loved ones combined with documents that are prepared correctly may help prevent future challenges in court.

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