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Celebrity’s mistakes reveal importance of estate planning

Engaging in estate planning often requires careful consideration of many future contingencies. That is an important lesson highlighted by the recent deaths of Robin Williams and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Robin Williams's case in particular demonstrates the need to utilize specific language when preparing your estate documents. Currently, Williams's children from previous marriages are now embroiled in a dispute with the late comedian's widow regarding several important items. Prior to his death last August, Williams did have some estate planning completed, however it now appears that the details contained within those documents was not specific enough to prevent the current dispute.

At issue are several watches which Williams's widow would like to keep, likely for their sentimental value. This is despite Williams's estate plan which grants "all tangible property" to the three children. The two parties are now in disagreement as to whether the comedian's widow should relinquish some of those items that Williams left in the Tiburon, California, home that he shared with his widow prior to his death.

There is doubt as to whether some items of jewelry should be considered memorabilia. This is important because Williams specifically designated that his children should receive all items considered as memorabilia from his celebrity career. Williams's trust also simultaneously grants his widow possession of the home in Tiburon, California, as well as many of its contents for the remainder of her life.

In another case involving Philip Seymour Hoffman's estate, it appears that certain tax implications may not have received sufficient scrutiny. Hoffman and his wife were never married. As a consequence, it's estimated that the actor's $35 million estate may have incurred a $15 million tax bill.

If you are a New York resident considering estate planning there are several things you should know. Simply creating a will or forming a trust may not necessarily be enough to prevent future disputes and other adverse events regarding your estate. It's important for you to not leave anything open to interpretation. It's also important to have an accurate assessment of how taxes may affect your estate's total value.

Fortunately, an attorney experienced with New York's estate planning laws can help guide you in the right direction. Your attorney can help you to become more specific regarding intentions for your wealth. Your attorney can also provide advice regarding your estate's potential tax liability.

Source: Hartford Courant, "Robin Williams' Foolproof Estate Plan? How To Avoid Family Fallout," Kevin Hunt, April. 20, 2015

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