One of the most eloquent responses to Robin Williams’ death came from his best friend Billy Crystal, who posted on Twitter simply: “No words.”
When someone close to us dies — especially in a sudden and tragic way — the grief is so deep that we truly don’t have words to describe it. And while Robin Williams may have lost the battle to take care of himself, it appears that he did take care of his family through various estate planning strategies that will at least spare them the pain and cost of a public probate court proceeding.
According to a Forbes article following Williams’ death, Williams had significant real estate holdings including a 653-acre Napa Valley estate and a waterfront home in Tiburon, California. The Napa Valley estate has been for sale since April with a price tag of $29.9 million; the Tiburon home has been valued at $6 million.
Both properties are held in the name of a real estate holding trust, which can remove the value of the properties from Williams’ estate and result in significant estate tax savings for his family.
Williams also set up a trust for his three children that splits the assets into equal distributions for each child once they reach the ages of 21, 25 and 30. This trust was established during his 2009 divorce from his second wife.
This is the one place Williams could have done better. Leaving assets to children outright when they reach specific ages is a common strategy of many estate planning attorneys, but it isn’t always the best strategy. Instead, Williams could have left the distributions in lifetime asset protection trusts that his children would have controlled as co-trustees, and then as they got older, sole trustees. This would have protected the trust assets from lawsuits, divorce, bankruptcy or any other type of creditor and future estate taxes, for generations to come.
While most of us do not have the wealth that Robin Williams enjoyed during his lifetime, we can all protect what we do have and ensure it passes to our loved ones using many of the same estate planning devices Williams did. For example, a trust allows our assets to pass outside of probate so our families will not have to endure a court proceeding or have assets frozen during the probate process. This can be a lifeline for grieving families in trying times.
One of the main goals of my law practice is to help families like yours plan for the safe, successful transfer of wealth to the next generations. If you’d like to give your family the gift of a lasting legacy of love and financial security, call my office today so we can schedule a time to sit down and talk about your specific situation, needs, and goals.
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