Lessons Learned: Robin Williams and His Estate

The tragic death and apparent suicide of master comedian Robin Williams has left millions of family, friends, and fans grieving for his loss. Reflecting on his legacy and memory, many people now wonder what is next for his family. He is survived by his third wife, Susan Schneider, to whom he was married for three years, and three adult children ranging in age from 22 to 31 from his two prior marriages.

Williams’ Estate

Robin Williams complained to an interviewer last year about the lifestyle changes he has had to make because of how much money he lost in his previous two divorces. Reportedly, it amounted to around $30 million. He admitted to returning to television, The Crazy Ones, because of bills to pay and listed his Napa Valley property for sale. Public records show that his real estate has significant value. The Napa property, named Villa Sorriso, has been on the market since April for $29.9 million. Williams also owns a 6,500 square foot property in Tiburon, California, valued at around $6 million. After deducting the mortgages on the homes the real estate alone is worth around $25 million.

Besides the real estate properties, Robin Williams had other assets, royalties, and the like to leave for his heirs. While some experts believed that he was worth as much as $150 million, recent estimates pegged his net worth closer to $50 million. However, that is still a substantial amount to leave for his wife and children. This number also does not include death benefits from life insurance or other unknown assets.

Williams’ Trusts

Robin Williams’ comedic genius apparently went along with some estate planning genius as well. It looks as though Williams created at least two different trusts for real estate and other property in his estate. His real estate trust is entitled, “Domus Dulcis Domus Holding Trust.” It contains both pieces of his real estate, and it was set up specifically to hold the land in trust. Two men, Hollywood producer Stephen Tenenbaum and New York accountant Joel Faden, were named as trustees.

In 2009, a different trust created by Robin Williams was leaked to the public. This occurred in the middle of his divorce from his second wife, Marcia Garces. The trust reportedly named his three children as beneficiaries and split the assets of the trust into three equal parts. The trust was to distribute funds to his children when they reached ages 21, 25, and 30. Because the trust appeared to transfer the money regardless of whether Robin Williams was alive or dead, this trust was likely established in part because of the divorce settlement and in part for estate planning purposes.

Lessons Learned

Regardless of the motivations behind the creation of the trusts, Williams took advantage of sophisticated estate planning tools to protect his loved ones, unlike other celebrity estates like Philip Seymour Hoffman or James Gandolfini whose estates have been public knowledge since their deaths. The trusts minimized the estate taxes for Williams on his property, and safeguarded his family from the public scrutiny of probate court.

While nothing can make the terrible loss of Robin Williams better for all who knew him, at the very least he appeared to have taken steps before his death to ensure that his family was well taken care of after he was gone. It is a lesson that others can learn from, as well. While most people do not have the level of wealth of Robin Williams, using estate planning tools like a revocable living trust can help your heirs avoid the cost, pain, and publicity of dragging your estate through probate court.

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