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Lacking specificity, interpretation of estate planning documents can spur legal action

Last August, Ohio residents were shocked and saddened to learn of the death of actor and comedian Robin Williams. This sense of loss was only intensified when his death, at the age of 63, was officially ruled a suicide. At the time of his death, Williams was married to his third wife, Susan Schneider, and left behind three children from his two previous marriages.

Since his passing, Williams' children and wife have likely struggled to cope with his death. With emotions running high, Schneider and Williams' three children are currently embroiled in a legal dispute related to the provisions of a trust the late-comedian established prior to his death.

Court documents reveal that the trust includes directives that personal items which preceded his third marriage should go to his three children. Documents also detail that his wife's trust be funded by the home the couple shared and its contents. Lacking specificity, legal action has been taken to determine those items to which each party is entitled.

For example, Williams indicated that his "memorabilia" go to his children. While Schneider contends this term only encompasses items related to the entertainment industry, his children believe otherwise. Additionally, while Williams included his "jewelry" among those items he wished to go to his children, Schneider claims that her late-husband’s watches should be excluded.

It remains to be seen just how far either side will go to retain items that likely bare both great sentimental and financial value. This case, however, proves the importance of specificity when it comes it comes to estate planning and wills and trusts. Ensuring one’s will and trust include direct and explicit details and directives is even more important for individuals who have been married more than once and have children and step-children from multiple marriages.

Source: Investment News, "Feud over Robin Williams' estate highlights need for specificity in trusts," Darla Mercado, Feb. 4, 2015

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