In our family, there’s a lovely cameo that belonged to my great grandmother. Its value, at least to our family, is far more than any dollar amount. It is symbolic of the matriarch of our family. There’s a bit of her in all of us – aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings and our parents. The cameo’s “home” is my aunt’s house. It was an easy choice after my great grandmother’s death. My aunt is as sweet, loving, tender, and determined as her sweet grandmother. Aunt Shay would never say that the broach is “hers”, though. She knows the value to all of us and she knows that sentimental piece of jewelry represents our family. The women in our family have all worn it during special occasions: weddings and recently, the proms of two of my nieces. To argue about the sentimental value or to suggest it’s worth more to one of us than another would an insult to my Granny G – and everything she instilled in her children, grandchildren, and even a few of her great grandchildren. Sadly, that’s not always the case with some families. As we’ve learned in recent weeks, wars within families have been declared when it comes to sentimental assets. It goes to show just how important sentiment is in our lives.
Last month, Robin Williams’ estate was in the news again. His widow, Susan Schneider, made the decision to give the rainbow suspenders worn on the TV show “Mork & Mindy” to his children from a previous marriage. She wanted the tuxedo he wore at their wedding, which his children have declined to give her.
It’s been eight months since his death and while he had an estate plan, there was some confusion. For instance, he left to his three children from his previous marriage the clothing, jewelry and personal items that he owned before marrying his third wife – including that tuxedo.
He also left to his wife the home and all of the contents within it – including the tuxedo. There has been some disagreement over whether personal items were removed without her knowledge. She’s not laid claim to the actor’s other home or its contents, but she does want the tuxedo he wore when the two were married. If it were your Uncle Joe’s tuxedo, odds are, there’d be no problem. But Williams was a very popular celebrity and talented actor. Those sentimental items have monetary value. This includes his Oscar for his performance in Good Will Hunting.
Indeed, being a beloved actor is a double edged sword.
Had Williams put the house he lived in with his wife and all of its contents into a trust, she would have use of it during her lifetime. After she died, ownership would pass to his children. That wasn’t done, though, so the war wages on – something Williams probably wanted to avoid as he was putting his estate plan together.
There are ways to prevent fighting within the family altogether, though many feel uncomfortable with it. There exist clauses one can incorporate into his estate plan that stipulates anyone who contests the way assets are divided – whether they hold financial or sentimental value – will forfeit his claim altogether and will receive nothing. These are awkward, though and can further damage fragile family dynamics.
Hopefully, the Williams’ family will be able to sort their differences as they continue to sort his material possessions.
To learn more about legacy planning or how to divide your sentimental assets, contact our offices today.