Robin Williams’ Family and Estate Planning

The initial shock of Robin Williams’ tragic death over, we now turn our attention to his legacy and memory. One question people may be asking is – what next for his family? Williams was survived by his wife (the third) of three years – Susan Schneider, and three adult children from his prior two marriages, whose ages range from 25 to 31. There is some fear that Williams’ death may have left his family in some financial distress.

According to interviews Williams granted recently, he revealed that he has had to change his lifestyle because of the amount of money he had lost in his two divorces (reportedly, around $30 million) and had to return to TV because he had “bills to pay”. Additionally, Williams was forced (by these circumstances) to put up his Napa Valley estate for sale because he could no longer afford it. However, Williams’ real estate show significant value. His Napa Valley mansion for example (resting on 653 acres), has been in the market since April for $29.9 million. Williams also left behind a waterfront home in Tiburon (measuring 6,500-square-foot), California, with rough estimates at $6 million. The two properties are however subject to mortgages, totaling $7.25 million as of 2011. In real terms, Williams left behind real estate with equity of around $25 million, depending on the open market value of the Napa property.

Besides the above, we are not sure how much money Williams left behind for his family. Any estimate of his net worth before he passed away would only be part of the financial picture although recent estimates put his net worth at $50 million; this may be on the high based on his reported financial struggles. We also will point out that these estimates would not have factored in the death benefit from life insurance, which could be substantial – high wage earners tend to take out insurance policies to protect their families especially as part of divorce settlements.

Anything Worth Celebrating?
Williams appears to have done some Estate Planning (has two different Trusts), which should be good news for his family. His valuable pieces of real estate are held in the name of the “Domus Dulcis Domus Holding Trust” – a latin phrase meaning “home sweet home.” He set up this Trust to own his real estate, with Hollywood producer and entertainment promoter Stephen Tenenbaum and New York accountant Joel Faden as the Trustees.

His other Trust (reportedly leaked in the midst of Williams’ divorce from his second wife, Marsha Garces) reportedly names Williams’ three children as beneficiaries, splitting their Trust Funds into three equal distributions for each of them. The Trust is set up to pay out (an undisclosed amount) when they reach ages 21, 25, and 30. The point here is that Williams may have set up this Trust to transfer money to his Beneficiaries whether he was alive or dead; making this as part of his divorce rather than purely for Estate Planning purposes. It is not known how much money was in this trust.

Who Gains?
Regardless of the motivation behind this Trust, it (and his real estate holding trust) is clear Williams took advantage of sophisticated Estate Planning to protect his loved ones. Williams had at least two trusts, and it appears that the Domus Dulcis Domus Holding Trust was done, at least in part, to minimize estate taxes. When made irrevocably and established and used the right way, Real estate holding Trusts can often carve valuable real estate outside of someone’s taxable estate. With the $25 million or so in equity, this could add up to a substantial savings for Williams’ family.

If we assume that this Trust was not set up with estate taxes in mind, if for nothing else it worked to safeguard privacy for Williams and his family. When used properly and not leaked to the media or revealed due to litigation, Trusts allows you to avoid probate court and keep your affairs private.

Technically, the real estate, the children’s Trust Funds, and any life insurance will not form part of Robin Williams’ Estate. We would also expectthat his ongoing royalties, earnings from new deals over his image and likeness, and future releases of his comedy material would be managed through his Estate, unless he had previously assigned those rights to another Trust or a corporate entity. These should add up to significant value.

According to numbers compiled by ABC News, his movies grossed over $6 billion throughout his career, more than half of which came with Williams as the leading man.

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