How Did Robin Williams' Widow Tried to Derail His Will?
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How Did Robin Williams' Widow Tried to Derail His Will?

What happened to Robin Williams's Estate? What can we learn from his Will dispute? This article outlines Robin Williams's Estate dispute and the lessons we can learn from his situation. Keep reading to learn more!

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The Intriguing Battle for Robin Williams' Legacy

The untimely passing of beloved actor and comedian Robin Williams in 2014 left fans devastated and mourning the loss of a true legend. Williams had been suffering an undiagnosed illness called Lewy Body Dementia that had taken a huge toll on Williams. Behind the scenes, Williams had been experiencing memory loss, sleep disturbance, and movement changes that he kept secret from the public. Williams was mistakenly diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, but an autopsy concluded that he actually had LBD. However, as the world mourned, a hidden drama was unfolding behind closed doors. After Williams’ shocking death, there was a very public Will dispute which pitted Williams' widow, Susan Schneider Williams, and his children against each other.

A Hollywood Romance

Robin Williams' marriage to Susan Schneider Williams was initially met with joy and hope. Schneider met Williams in 2007 when she was shopping at an Apple store in Marin County, California. Williams was there too. She noticed he was wearing a camouflage shirt, so she said, “How’s that camo working out for you?’ And he said: ‘Not too good – you found me.’” Four years after that meet-cute,  the couple tied the knot in 2011. It was Williams' third marriage and Schneider’s second. The couple lived together with Schneider’s two children from a prior relationship.  Williams had three adult children: son Zak, from his first marriage, and Zelda and Cody, from his second marriage. However, their relationship took a tragic turn when Robin Williams tragically took his own life in August of 2014.

The Surprising Estate Plan

In the aftermath of Robin Williams' passing, his Will came to light, revealing detailed instructions on the distribution of his $100 million dollar estate. However, the contents of the will would soon ignite a heated dispute between Schneider and Williams' three children. The Robin Williams Trust was amended in 2012 after Williams and Schneider were married. Under the trust terms, Schneider was allowed to live in the couple’s primary residence in Tiburon, California. Williams also owned a larger home in Napa Valley. The Napa Valley Estate was earmarked for Williams’ children. Williams worked with his lawyer and accountant to create a fund to pay for Schneider’s living expenses. Under the terms of the trust, Schneider was also entitled to most of the personal property of the Tiburon house. 

Williams’ Will and Trust documents made specific bequests to his kids, including his “clothing, jewelry and personal photos taken prior to his marriage to Susan” as well as his “memorabilia and awards from the entertainment industry.” It also gave his children the “tangible personal property located” in the Napa Valley estate.

Schneider Disputes the Will

Susan Schneider contested the Will, claiming that it did not provide her with sufficient resources to maintain the couple's Tiburon home, and that she should be entitled to additional financial support. The Williams children, on the other hand, argued that their father's intentions were clear and that the distribution of assets should proceed according to his wishes.

The Assets at Stake

Robin Williams' estate included an impressive portfolio of assets accumulated throughout his illustrious career. From real estate properties to valuable memorabilia, the total value of the estate was estimated to be in the tens of millions of dollars. The assets not only held significant monetary value but also carried sentimental weight for both his wife and children, and that’s what led to the Will dispute.

The Legal Battle Over Robin Williams’ Collectibles

The legal battle that followed was a true test of wills. Schneider said that the meaning of some terms was too vague. She argued that what constituted “memorabilia,” “collectibles,” and “knick-knacks” were not well defined. Her lawyers argued that “memorabilia'' should include only “specific items of tangible personal property as it relates to Robin Williams’s acting career.” Meanwhile, Schneider said that  “jewelry” should naturally exclude his collection of watches, which she felt should belong to her.  As for the Tiburon home, she claimed that all of the contents belonged to her, including what was located in storage and not in the house itself. Shneider wanted the Court to decide how much the Estate should pay her to maintain the Tiburon home. Her idea was that the Trust should pay her $300,000 for renovations.

Williams’ children argued that the terms of the Will were clear. Although the media focused on the sentimental attachments the family had to Williams’ possessions, there was also a significant amount of money at stake since Williams collected many items that were highly valuable. Reports say his collectibles included comic books, watches, rare army men, scientific oddities, and a bicycle collection. The Will didn’t say specifically whether these items were meant for the children, nor did it say what exactly happened to the storage items.

A Surprising Twist

Just as the courtroom drama seemed destined for a lengthy legal battle, a surprising resolution emerged. In 2015, Susan Schneider Williams and the three Williams children reached a settlement, the terms of which remain undisclosed to the public. 

Schneider’s lawyers said: “Mrs. Williams is able to keep the few emotional items she requested, such as their wedding gifts, selected clothing items, a watch Robin often wore, plus the bike she and her husband bought together on their honeymoon.”

“The Williams children will receive the vast majority of the items they demanded, such as more than 50 bikes and over 85 watches, as well as thousands of never-disputed items like Robin Williams’s Academy Award statue.”

“With an overall estate estimated at more than $100 million, Mrs. Williams will be receiving only a fraction of the overall estate, representing those funds sufficient to allow her to remain in the home for her lifetime.”

The children only said that “The children are relieved to have this behind them.”

The agreement allowed the family to find a semblance of closure and move forward, albeit with lingering questions about the true motivations behind the initial challenge to the will.

Lessons Learned

The Robin Williams estate battle serves as a stark reminder of the importance of clear and unambiguous estate planning. Regardless of your financial condition, you should have a Will that states your final wishes clearly and with specificity. Williams probably did not expect friction between his wife and children, but a person’s sudden death often leaves loved ones in a state of emotional turmoil. When you have a collectible or antique that has emotional significance to you or a family member, it is best to include it in the Will so that there is no question about your wishes.

Schneider’s attempt to derail the Williams Will highlighted the complexities and intricacies of estate planning, even for those in the public eye.  While the legal battle surrounding Robin Williams' estate was undoubtedly a difficult chapter for his family, it is important to remember the impact Williams made during his extraordinary career.

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