Susan Williams has shared some of the difficulties she had in dealing with estate trustees after the passing of Robin Williams
I have covered the Robin Williams estate dispute in several different blog posts. As the dispute started, it appeared that it was going to become a prolonged and bitter battle. Allegations were made by Susan Williams that items were removed from the family home, including jewellery, watches, and other memorabilia. Allegedly, there were 1,200 items to be sorted out. The estate has been estimated at $50 million. The parties had the financial resources to litigate and become entrenched. Fortunately for all those involved, approximately a year after the initial filings the matter was settled out of Court, with the terms of the settlement remaining confidential.
Since the dispute settled, Susan Williams has revealed why she was prompted to initiate litigation. It appears that a mere two weeks after Robin Williams’ suicide, lawyers for his children (estate trustees) had told Susan Williams that they would come to the home she shared with her husband and take various items that were part of the estate. The trustees were going to show up and start clearing out items and memorabilia from the house without her even being there. Some of the items under the category of memorabilia included personal items such as wedding gifts the couple had received. Within weeks, lawyers for the estate began taking everything from the home in order to determine which items Susan would get to keep and what would go to the estate. Shortly thereafter she decided to commence litigation. She filed a petition asking that the contents of the home they shared in Tiburon, California be exempt from the estate. Robin Williams’ children responded by alleging that she was trying to change a trust agreement and deprive them of items their father intended to leave to them.
The situation in this case was particularly sensitive as Robin Williams and his wife had been struggling with his medical conditions in the months prior to his suicide. In addition to suffering from depression and anxiety, Robin Williams also had signs of Parkinson’s Disease and Lewy Body Dementia. The Lewy Body Dementia was not diagnosed until his autopsy. He had been recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Susan Williams has stated that his medical conditions may have contributed to his decision to take his own life. In addition to all of this, at the time the trustees began removing items, Ms. Williams was dealing with the recent suicide of her husband. It is easy to see why she would commence litigation.
On the other hand, it is important not to forget that the trustees have duties to the beneficiaries of the estate. If they do not act quickly to preserve the estate, they may face serious consequences and legal action by the beneficiaries. If a person in a similar situation as Ms. Williams sells, hides, or removes items belonging to the estate of the deceased, it can seriously diminish the value of the estate. This is especially true if the deceased is famous, if the items are classified as memorabilia, and most importantly, if there is no inventory of which items are part of the estate of the deceased. If items are removed from an estate, it can lead to litigation for losses caused to the estate against the person who sold, hid, or removed the items. It can also lead to estate litigation against the trustees for negligence and for failure to fulfil their duties as trustees of the estate.
This is why it is important for trustees to understand the full scope of their duties and responsibilities. Being an estate trustee can be a difficult task. The important outcome of this estate dispute is that it was resolved and the parties did not drag it out and mar the legacy of Robin Williams. The settlement is awaiting Court approval, but it seems like both sides are satisfied with the resolution.
For more on the Robin Williams estate click here.