ROBIN WILLIAMS UNIQUE ESTATE PLANNING GENIUS
This blog discussed some of the aspects of Robin Williams estate in the past. Mr. Williams will be remembered for a long time due to his many accomplishments, with a long, funny, inciteful and compassionate comedic wit. While it seems fairly certain that Mr. Williams mental state was brought on by a biological or, more accurately, a neurological condition that spawned a profound depression. Mr. Williams will also be remembered for his estate which was perhaps the first of many to come from actors, singers or other celebrities who have value in their likenesses or other unique personal attributes.
While Mr. Williams created a multi-tiered estate plan, he was sure to include the right to profit, or, more accurately, to curtail a person, company or entity from profiting from his likeness and publicity for 25 years following his death. In other words, movie studios, music producers or producers of Mr. Williams stand up comedy routine cannot take Mr. Williams image, voice or any other asset tied to his likeness or even his publicity and profit from it. While some pundits commented on the novelty of it and the breadth of the prohibition on his likeness and the length of time, it is not surprising that someone created such a blanket prohibition. Look at what the producers of Forrest Gump did with John Lennon or President Lyndon B, Johnson. To someone unaware of the times, they would be unaware that the producers of the movie morphed and cut and pasted the images and footage into the movie and could believe that Mr. Lennon or President Johnson personally appeared in the movie.
BEQUEATHED IN A TRUST
Mr. Williams was sure to bequeath his likeness, signature, photograph and name, not to be used for 25 years, to a nonprofit foundation, in a trust document. Trust documents are not necessarily public documents. The trust document in the case of Mr. Williams became public because of a dispute over the terms of his will. Trusts are often used to avoid the probate process, which is a public and open process to dispose of assets, and sometimes the desire to avoid a public airing of the family or personal assets is the sole motivating factor to choose a trust over a will. The fact that Mr. Williams had a will as part of his multi-tiered indicates that he was comfortable with at least some of his estate being public knowledge. In addition to prohibiting his likeness, no one is permitted to profit from his publicity. This prevents a producer from essentially reconstructing Mr. Williams via future technology or perhaps just the same technology noted in Forrest Gump. The fact that he bequeathed these rights to a non-profit additionally shows that he was concerned about the tax liability to his family members. Passing these rights to a non-profit potentially lowers his family’s tax liability significantly.