Even as many continue to reel from the death of Robin Williams, what’s happened since the day he took his own life is what has many estate planning lawyers cringing. One small overlooked detail has resulted in an estate planning error that puts much of Williams’ legal and financial decisions on public display. The worst part is that it could have been prevented.
Private Matters, Public Fodder
So how did a gossip site gain access to the two trusts that spelled out his wishes for his children? These irrevocable trusts were set up in 1989 and 2009 and addressed how he wanted assets distributed to his three now-adult children. There’s little doubt he chose irrevocable trusts because of the privacy they afforded. These documents aren’t subject to probate, unlike a traditional will. What he didn’t consider was the mortality of the trustees he named. Joel Faden had petitioned the courts to put another successor in place, a “successor trustee”, to serve in the role of co-trustee after the death of Gerald Margolis. A successor trustee is a trustee who takes over for a previous trustee when that trustee is no longer able to perform the duties of a trustee, for whatever reason. Usually the trust maker names successor trustees in the trust agreement. It’s not uncommon that there are two or more successor trustees who are involved, especially when it comes to public figures.
Small Estate Planning Error
Even more interesting is that Margolis died in 2008 and the trusts were updated a year later, without addressing the death or providing any type of remedy. It was a missed opportunity and one that happens more often than many might realize. Still, the court’s involvement could have been avoided with just a bit of proactive housekeeping.
One way this could have been avoided in its entirety is through the use of trust protectors. These are often the people in our lives who we trust with the smallest of details and in these roles, they can eliminate the need of the courts. Depending on the terms in the trust, a trust protector can be either a person or corporation who has the authority to oversee the trustees. Further, this person or entity may also change provisions of the trust, veto acts of the trustees and ensure that the trust is being properly administered.
This is where many experienced estate planning lawyers are wondering how this could have happened. How could an estate planning attorney worth his salt create a trust without naming successor trustees, especially with a public figure as a client? It’s a reminder of the role details play in estate planning as a whole and how one small missed detail can wreak havoc in the efforts that had been made to prevent public disclosure. Considering Williams did everything right to protect his family, the fact that his efforts were defeated anyway is especially difficult.
To learn more about designating trusts versus creating a traditional will or if you’d like to explore how trust protectors could better protect your privacy – not to mention your family’s privacy – contact our offices today.