Robin Williams’ Estate: Subject to California Probate?

/ August 19, 2014

Trustee Certificate - iStockAs everyone mourns the death of Robin Williams and reflects on his tremendous talents, we estate planning attorneys can’t help but wonder, did Robin Williams do any estate planning?

It is apparent that Robin Williams had a very successful career. What is unclear is the true value of his estate. Some reports indicate that Robin Williams was close to filing bankruptcy, while others report that he had equity in real estate upwards of $25 million. If the latter is true, one can only hope that Robin Williams took the time to do some estate planning.

Robin Williams’ family would surely benefit from any preplanning he may have done. He was married to his third wife at the time of his death, and he left behind three children between the ages of 22 and 31. Some of Robin Williams’ past estate planning documents have been leaked to the press, documents in which Robin Williams’ agents claim are void. The documents were akin to Irrevocable Life Insurance Trusts, allowing for staggered trust distributions to his children: 1/3 at 21; 1/3 at 25; and a 1/3 at 30.

What has yet to be confirmed is whether Robin Williams had any type of Revocable Trust in his estate plan. For the real estate alone, this could be significant. If the real estate was held in a Revocable Trust, no probate matter would need to be commenced to transfer the assets to his heirs. Similar to the laws in Minnesota, under California law, if Robin Williams did not have a trust and owned real estate when he passed away, a probate matter would need to be commenced to pass the real estate on to his heirs. However, if the allegations that he held his real estate in trust are true, under the name of The Domus Dulcis Domus Holding Trust, his real estate could escape the probate courts all together.

While probate does not need to be costly for all matters in Minnesota, a probate matter dealing with multi-million dollar real estate in California certainly would be. In California, the filing fees are much higher and occur both at the inception of the probate proceeding and at the close of the proceeding. What becomes most concerning with Robin Williams’ estate is the amount of attorney’s fees that his heirs would incur in this type of probate proceeding.

In most states, probate attorneys charge by the hour or collect a flat fee for attorney’s fees. The fee arrangement is usually based on the concept of “reasonableness.” However, that is not the case in California. California is one of only a few states (Florida is another example) that allow attorneys to be paid based on a statutory fee. The attorney’s fees are based on the value of the assets that pass through probate. The fees are set forth in the state statutes (Cal. Probate Code §§ 10810, 10811).

Current Rates:

  • 4% of the first $100,000 of the gross value of the probate estate
  • 3% of the next $100,000
  • 2% of the next $800,000
  • 1% of the next $9 million
  • .5% of the next $15 million

If Robin Williams’ estate passes through probate, the attorney involved stands to benefit quite substantially under the current estimates of the value of his estate. For if Robin Williams utilized a Revocable Trust, his assets could pass directly to his family, saving them thousands of dollars in court costs and attorney’s fees.

Rest in Peace Robin Williams.

One thought on “Robin Williams’ Estate: Subject to California Probate?

  1. Excellent insight on estate planning, the Federal Estate Tax and inheritances in light of Robin Williams’ untimely passing. We can only hope that other families learn from these high profile passings and their mistakes — or, hopefully, the estate planning steps which they took that worked. Reports of Williams’ financial woes poses many questions, such as: if a successful man like that had money problems, could he have the good sense to have an estate plan for his heirs and family members? Was there a plan to pay the estate tax? Keep up the great writing.

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