FAMILY OF ROBIN WILLIAMS FIGHTING OVER HIS ESTATE
Mr. Williams hanged himself last year at his home in California. He apparently had created an estate plan but a dispute has resulted between his wife and his children over the distribution of his personal property (a very common source of disagreement in many estates) and the cash needed by wife to maintain the home which was distributed to her out of the estate. Given the wealth of the late actor, we can assume the home was large and thus the annual maintenance to keep it up was a number which could be (and is being) disputed between the children and the wife.
Arguably, these details could have been included in the estate plan created by Mr. Williams. The annual maintenance costs in prior years could have been figured and an estimated figure obtained, assuming higher costs in the future. Nevertheless, it appears that was not done and now his survivors are fighting it out in court. This not only wastes time and energy, but creates bad blood among family members, all of whom have undoubtedly been devastated by the loss of their father and husband.
The lesson here is that estate litigation can be avoided with proper and thorough estate planning. The estate plan here probably just needed to be more specific as to the maintenance costs for the home for the wife. As the article states, however, the family has already received many differences which is good to hear. Often estate litigation cases can drag on for years without a resolution and their costs can be staggering.
A contingency fee agreement is a type of legal fee agreement in which an attorney agrees to litigate your case without being paid for the legal fees until money or property is distributed to you. This can mean that you have less risk of loss if the dispute is unsuccessful. Our law firm will sometimes to a case on a contingency fee basis for larger probate and trust litigation matters in Missouri. Usually we will only consider a case for this type of litigation if it involves more than $250,000.
Our firm is unusual in that most law firms that practice in the area of probate and trust litigation will only consider taking these cases if the client can pay fees on an hourly basis. In some cases we will start a case on an hourly or flat fee arrangement and then consider a contingency fee arrangement after we have had more of a chance to investigate the case.
Contingency fee agreements can be well suited to probate and trust litigation. Typically, in probate or trust litigation one or more children have been disinherited or have had their inheritance greatly reduced and one child or a non family member will receive most or all of the estate.
In these cases the child who will receive the bulk of the estate has control of the money and can often use it to hire an attorney to defend the challenged will or trust. The children who are contesting the will or trust have to use their own financial resources to fund their litigation. If they don’t have the financial resources to hire an attorney on an hourly basis then they may be left with two choices. First, don’t file the case. Second, find a lawyer who will take the case on a contingency fee.
There is no one way to pay for the cost of probate or trust litigation. Each person must evaluate their own case and circumstances to determine if an hourly rate or contingency fee makes the most sense for them.
If you have a trust or probate dispute in St. Charles County, St. Louis County or anywhere in Missouri, call Legacy Law Center to discuss your case and your options.