One of the most eloquent responses to Robin Williams' death came from
his best friend Billy Crystal, who posted on Twitter simply: "No
When someone close to us dies -- especially in a sudden and tragic way
-- the grief is so deep that we truly don't have any 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 a number
of sophisticated estate planning strategies that spared 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. According to public records, the equity
in the properties totals approximately $25 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 fund
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
This is the one place we see Williams could have done better. Leaving assets
to children outright when they reach specific ages is a common strategy
of estate planning attorneys, but isn't always the best strategy.
When dealing with substantial wealth, Williams could have left his children
their respective distributions in lifetime asset protection trusts that
his children could have controlled as co-trustees or trustees, and which
would have been protected from lawsuits, divorce, bankruptcy or any other
type of creditor and future estate taxes for generations.
Of course, the most valuable part of Williams' estate is likely to
be the ongoing royalties for his roles in movies and television as well
as his comedy material. It is unclear whether the estate will be responsible
for managing these or if Williams established a trust or corporate entity
for this purpose.
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 estate planning vehicles such as wills and trusts.