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Just how effective was Robin Williams' estate plan?

While movie fans have been shocked by the unexpected passing of some iconic performers over the last year, no other loss has perhaps resonated quite as much as that of comedic legend actor Robin Williams, who passed away earlier this month at the age of 63.

Given some of the legal issues that have arisen concerning the estates of James Gandolfini and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, question have understandably arisen among legal experts as to the type of estate plan that Williams, father of three adult children, had in place.

Some of these experts are theorizing that Williams likely utilized an estate planning tool like a revocable living trust to accomplish his objectives, as it would serve to minimize taxes, maximize privacy and avoid the probate process altogether.

While no details have been released concerning the details of his estate, Williams' publicist did confirm that he had previously executed a trust, which dictated that each of his three children would receive equal monetary shares upon reaching the ages of 21, 25 and 30 regardless of whether he was alive or had passed.

Interestingly, many of the aforementioned experts have indicated that while Williams' plan for his children was laudable, it may not have been the ideal approach.

That's because they argue that giving people such a sizeable amount of money at such a young age (Williams' net worth is estimated to be close to $50 million) can serve to rob them of their ambition or create the risk that the money will be squandered.

Furthermore, they argue that this approach also fails to account for the possibility of one of the children divorcing or being named in a potential lawsuit later in life.

The more current approach, say experts, is to structure a trust in such a way as to allow the beneficiaries to appoint the trustee once reaching a designated age. Here, they could either decide to appoint someone who would be willing to dispense assets or, as an alternative, they could choose to leave the assets in the trust, where they would be protected from divorce, lawsuits, etc.

While you may be tempted to say that hindsight is 20/20, it's important to remember that this isn't the case when it comes to estate planning. Consulting with an experienced legal professional now can help ensure that your assets are fully protected and distributed according to your exact wishes further down the line.

Source: CNBC, "Robin Williams' estate plan: Good, but not great," Kelley Holland, Aug. 12, 2014

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