NEW YORK (MainStreet) When Robin Williams passed away, he reportedly owned a 653-acre Napa Valley mansion that was on sale for $29.9 million and a 6,500-square-foot home in Tiburon, Calif. worth an estimated $6 million. Although the properties are exempt from Williams's estate, the comedian's ongoing royalties or earnings from future releases of his comedic work appear to be included, unless otherwise designated.
"Preliminary reports indicate that Mr. Williams established at least one revocable trust for estate-planning purposes, hopefully shielding his loved ones from excessive taxation and unnecessary time in court," said probate and estate attorney Jessica Dunne with Chamblee, Ryan, Kershaw & Anderson in Dallas.
The comedian's films reportedly grossed more than $6 billion, and recently the funny man was paid a lofty $165,000 per episode for one season on the television sit-com "The Crazy Ones."
"He lived in California where the probate process is known to be especially drawn out, so his estate planning foresight will likely prove invaluable for his loved ones as they grieve his death," Dunne told MainStreet.
But how after death royalties and earnings will be handled depends on who was given control over them and if it was designated through a revocable trust.
"It would be ideal if Mr. Williams designated one individual or a discreet board to control and preserve his intellectual property for the benefit of his beneficiaries in order to avoid the disputes and deadlocks seen in other celebrity estates," said Laura Zwicker, partner and attorney with Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinger in Los Angeles.
A second trust was created in 2009 after Williams divorced his second wife Marsha Garces, according to TMZ. "Trusts set up during divorce can be a result of confrontation, and they may be necessary for estate planning purposes," said Leonard Wright, a CPA and financial planner in San Diego. "But policies owned by the insured while married may present an enormous problem when both spouses are single."
Robin Williams was pronounced dead by suicide on August 11, 2014 and whether an insurance policy pays the death benefit to beneficiaries when suicide is involved varies.
"Most insurers have a provision in the policy specifically excluding payment of life insurance proceeds in the event of suicide by the insured," said Laurelle Gutierrez, partner and attorney with McDermott Will & Emery in Menlo Park, Calif. "Of the few companies that do allow payments for suicide, there may be an elimination term that requires the policy be in existence for a period of time before death, which is usually a year or two."
Estate plans, however, are not impacted by how a person dies.
"The actual estate planning and estate administration aren't different in suicide, but the personal fallout after is very different," said Wendy Witt, an estate planning attorney with Wealth Counsel. "The family's pain, questions and feelings of guilt are very different from when someone dies of natural causes or an accident. All those feelings exist no matter the cause of death, but they are amplified with a suicide."
William's daughter Zelda had posted a tribute to her father on Twitter until she reportedly received photoshopped images of her father's dead body and cruel messages through the social media site. While her grief is unavoidable, fighting over an inheritance is unlikely.
"Children are often unintentionally disinherited by loving parents who remarry," Witt told MainStreet. "Unlike most parents, Mr. Williams made sure that wouldn't happen. He used trusts to protect his children." Williams is survived by three wives and three children.
--Written by Juliette Fairley for MainStreet