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Legal disputes arise over the estate of Robin Williams

When creating an estate plan, one of the complicating factors that is often overlooked is how grief can alter the behaviors of family members. When the deceased has lived a long and full life and died relatively peacefully, grief is less likely to be a complicating factor.

When the deceased was taken too soon and died under tragic circumstances, however, family members and loved ones may cling to any property with sentimental value as though it were a life raft on a stormy sea. In such cases, any vaguely worded intentions in a person's estate plan can lead to serious disputes and in-fighting.

This may be the case with the estate of Robin Williams, who committed suicide in August 2014 after struggling with lengthy periods of depression. Mr. Williams was among the most beloved actors and comedians of the last century, and his sudden, tragic death was no doubt even harder on his family than on his many fans.

Robin Williams had been married three times, most recently in 2011 when he tied the knot with Susan Schneider Williams. He also has three adult children from his first two marriages.

Although Mr. Williams seems to have done extensive estate planning, legal disputes are arising between his children (to whom he left most of his estate) and Susan - to whom he left a trust that included their shared home and, with some restrictions, "the contents thereof."

Money is at issue in these disputes, but they seem to be more focused on treasured personal possessions, such as Robin Williams' collectibles, clothing and other items with significant sentimental value. It is easy to understand how, even in life, there could be a rift between Williams' children and his third wife Susan that was heightened by his tragic death.

As we have previously noted, thorough and clearly written estate plans minimize the risks of legal disputes and acrimony among family members. Even with the best estate planning, however, disputes can arise, if only because of significant grief. Hopefully, the family and loved ones that Robin Williams left behind will be able to settle their differences quickly, peacefully and to mutual satisfaction.

Source: The New York Times, "Robin Williams's Widow and Children Tangle Over Estate," Dave Itzkoff, Feb. 2, 2015

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