Unlike some other celebrities, Robin Williams created a detailed estate plan so that his children and second wife, Susan Schneider Williams would avoid any bitter family disputes that tend to plague blended families. Sadly, the widow and adult children of Robin Williams will be battling in a San Francisco court over his estate. Susan Schneider Williams filed her petition in December claiming some of Williams’ trust provisions were ambiguous and therefore, certain memorabilia were bestowed to her, yet is being claimed by the children. She also claims that some property that should now belong to her were taken from the home she shared with Robin Williams. Williams’ children responded by calling Susan’s petition to the court as an attempt to challenge Robin Williams’ wishes by altering trust provisions that Williams’ drafted clearly and unambiguously. Sad.
The trustees will probably have final say over the disputed property. In this case, the trustees claim that the trust is clear but the dispute is over some “knick-knacks” which both Susan Schneider Williams and the children believe is rightfully theirs. In a statement, these trustees say that “[Susan Schneider Williams’] Susan’s contention of ambiguity is entirely irrelevant because the trust is clear and unambiguous about who has the ‘final and absolute’ authority to determine the disposition of the tangible personal property: that power is vested in the trustees.” The trustees added that her petition was untimely—read, premature.
Powers & Neal takes great care in drafting their clients’ wills and trusts in a clear, concise manner and in conformance with clients’ desires (and of course relevant law). Although the Robin Williams’ trust dispute is a reminder that sometimes, not even the best wills and trusts will ensure complete avoidance of inheritance fights, well drafted documents can reduce the likelihood of lengthy litigation. Many times this happens as a result of an outdated estate plan.