When Robin Williams committed suicide in August of 2014, he left a detailed estate plan. At first glance, it appeared that the Trusts he established were very well organized and seemed to be a model for estate planners everywhere. Unfortunately, his family argued over ownership of items and disputed certain parts of his will based upon general, rather than, specific language. This is a court battle best avoided. As estate planners, we have several guidelines that we use to prevent disputes.
- An heir who contests a Will may try to prove undue influence, lack of testamentary capacity, or that there was confidential relationship between the testator and the beneficiary. A “no contest” clause, sometimes called an in terrorem clause, can be added to indicate that the testator does not want their decisions to be questioned. The heir contesting the Will loses their inheritance if he/she is unable to successfully contest the Will.
- A memorandum should be attached to the estate plan in order to document the distribution of specific items. Rather than using general terms like “jewelry” or “memorabilia,” the collections can be inventoried and left to a specific person. Greater specificity will help reduce conflict and misunderstanding.
- It might be helpful to schedule a meeting with the heirs to discuss the estate plan, clarify the testator’s intent, and address concerns. This is an opportunity to head off any challenges.
- Videotaping the review of the documents and the signing is another way to make the testator’s intent clear.