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Probate process not going smoothly for Robin Williams' heirs

It might be difficult for Massachusetts fans of Robin Williams to believe that it has been nearly six months since he passed away. He attempted to set up a conflict free estate plan that provided for the people he loved, but that has not stopped his heirs from finding their way into court. The contentious probate process is not over the big assets that he owned -- instead, it is about his personal items.

Prior to his death, Williams created trusts for his children and updated his will. He and his third wife signed a prenuptial agreement prior to their marriage. At that time, Williams had no reason to believe that a legal dispute would arise among his heirs.

Anyone in Massachusetts could be in the same position as Williams was at the time he completed his estate plan. Many people forget about their personal items and the attachments that family members can develop to them. Therefore, taking the extra step of dividing personal items that may have no significant monetary value may also be in order.

Each individual will need to determine the best way to decide who will receive what personal items. Allowing family members to choose the items they want may seem simple enough, but the process needs to include a way to resolve disputes over the same piece of property. Once the choices are made, a list can be compiled that becomes part of a person's will. In order to ensure that each heir receives the property he or she chose, a reference to the list should be made in the will.

It could take some time before the dispute among Williams' heirs is resolved and the probate process is complete. Before it is over, they may spend a significant amount of time and money arguing their cases in court. Individuals who wish to take the extra step to reduce the likelihood of his or her heirs doing the same thing would benefit from an understanding of how to divide up his or her personal property in a way that is legally binding after death.

Source: TIME, "3 Things We Can Learn From Robin Williams' Estate Battle", Kerri Anne Renzulli, Feb. 4, 2015

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