When it comes to battles over personal possessions in estate matters, it is rarely because those involved intend to liquidate the items for revenue. Usually, the fight is rooted in an emotional struggle and centers on long-standing hurts and resentments. That’s likely the case in a battle now underway over the estate of actor Robin Williams.
Ask any divorce lawyer what was the cause of the most intense and bitter fight between a couple, and chances are good they will tell you it was over something ridiculous – a collection of Elvis decanters or a matchbook collection.
The stuff being fought over serves as a proxy because the parties are angry with each other and want to fight over something. The same thing happens in estate law when heirs do not get along and resent each other. The heirs will fight over those very same Elvis decanters.
However, in estate law these battles do not make it to court as often as they do in divorce law because divorcing couples are already in court. Most of the time heirs feuding over junk find it cost prohibitive to hire attorneys. Robin Williams' estate might be an exception.
His personal property might be valuable to collectors. So even though the real reason his heirs are fighting is probably not out of any great desire to have his bicycle collection or books, those items are issues in his estate. Issues that the court might have to settle were recently the subject of an ABC7 report titled "Robin Williams’ Bikes Are An Issue in Estate Battle."
What does this mean for estate planning purposes? If you suspect your heirs might have lingering disputes with each other, then it is a good idea to spell out who gets what property as specifically as possible. While you think there is nothing worth fighting over, any heirs who have a bone to pick may pick a fight over your “stuff” after you are gone.
Contact an estate planning attorney to help you avoid (and prevent) petty feuds over your estate.
Reference: ABC7 (August 28, 2015) "Robin Williams Bikes Are An Issue In Estate Battle."