Minnesota readers who have followed the story of Robin Williams’ death may be interested in the steps the late comedian took for the disposition of his assets. Rather than relying solely on a will, Williams made use of at least one revocable trust as an estate planning instrument. The use of a revocable trust will likely grant Williams’ heirs some estate tax benefits while also allowing avoidance of some complications that are common following the deaths of celebrities and other wealthy individuals. Not least among the concerns in a case like this is keeping the wishes of the deceased private. While a will is still generally considered the first and most basic document for estate planning, wills are subject to potentially arduous probate and may be made public during the process.
In contrast, revocable trusts allow for the disposition of assets outside of probate. They also allow for greater privacy, as the trust instrument is not made public. Indeed, it is possible that the public will never know the specifics of Williams’ trust or the specific distribution of his assets. That would not likely be the case if he had relied upon only a will.
Another advantage of revocable trusts is their flexibility. It is generally simpler, or at least requires less formality, to amend or update the terms of a revocable trust than it is to do the same with a will. Because Williams had children from different marriages, and because he was married three times, ease of amendment may have been particularly important to his estate planning.
Those who are less concerned about avoiding probate but still desire the advantages of a trust may consider setting up testamentary trusts through a will. An estate planning attorney may be able to help interested parties create such a document. On death, the will operates both to establish one or more testamentary trusts and to transfer assets into the trusts according to the instructions of the decedent.
Source: Daily Finance, “Robin Williams’ Estate Plan Spares His Heirs a Lot of Drama“, Dan Caplinger, August 14, 2014