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What can be learned from the estate battle of Robin Williams?

When Robin Williams took his own life this past August everyone was in shock. The unexpected death of a beloved movie star and comedian affected many people. But since he died there has been a battle among his heirs over his estate. There are a few things that non-celebrities can learn from this conflict in order to make sure their estate plan doesn't have the same pitfalls.

After he died, a conflict has arisen in Robin Williams's estate over his personal property. His third wife and his children are fighting over who will get his personal belongings including clothing, photographs, books, fossils, bicycles and other items. Although he had an updated will, estate plan and prenuptial agreement he was still unable to avoid the classic family argument over who gets what.

Some advice for families to avoid the who gets what argument include setting up a plan ahead of time. Although you can't make a plan for every single item you can look through your things to see what is the most valuable for you and your family legacy. You can also ask family members what they would like to inherit. Once you identify the possessions, create a distribution system that is fair for the family members. Be clear over who gets to decide who receives the possessions. You can devise a rotation where the oldest child picks first, second oldest second, etc. For possessions where more than one person wants the same one an outside arbitrator may need to step in. Finally, once the possessions have been identified as to where they are going, make sure it's clear to everyone. Also include why those people are receiving certain possessions. Write down the list (or take pictures of all items), sign and date the list and attach it to the will.

Washington residents who need assistance with estate planning may want to consult with a legal professional. An attorney can help a family determine important estate planning tools and resources to give them peace of mind.

Source:, "3 Things We Can Learn From Robin Williams' Estate Battle," Kerri Anne Renzulli, Feb. 4, 2015

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