The popular press is always full of cautionary tales about celebrities and their estate plans (see our previous post on Philip Seymour Hoffman). These stories make it seem that more celebrities get estate planning wrong then get it right. However, it appears that Robin Williams did take several steps to get his estate plan right before his untimely death.
Williams created a revocable living trust. Since trust documents are not part of the public record like a will, we may never know who Williams gave his assets to and how those assets will be handled (in a trust, outright gifts, etc.). The living trust will help protect Williams’ legacy and his family’s privacy (assuming there is no litigation or disclosure by those with knowledge of the plan).
In addition, living trusts help to avoid probate if they are properly funded. In California, where Williams lived, the probate process can be expensive due to fees for the attorney and executor that are based on the value of the assets going through probate in addition to appraisal fees and court costs. If Williams transferred all of his personal assets to the living trust prior to his death, he will have helped to avoid these expenses.
Williams also appears to have created a trust to hold his real estate in California (estimated equity of $25 million) and another trust to benefit his children (value unknown). While it is not known whether Williams created these trusts to help reduce his estate tax costs, it is possible that he did so. This uncertainty is because the terms of these trusts remain private.
I hope that Williams’ family benefits from his planning and foresight and that other celebrities take notice.