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Knick Knacks and Paddy Whacks: Sometimes You Do Need To Sweat The Small Stuff in your Estate Plan



The loss of the gifted actor and comedian, Robin Williams, six months ago was a devastating one. For those of us old enough to remember it, his performance as the inimitably manic Mork from Ork in Mork and Mindy forever changed how we viewed comedy and even television. (Also, Mork’s sideways Vulcan-like greeting was much better than Spock’s. Trekkies, please email your complaints and counter-points to idontreallycarethatmuch@wasteoftime.org. ) Despite his personal ups and downs, it initially appeared that Robbian Williams estate plan was in order and would avoid the kind of nasty court fight that all too often is the hallmark of celebrity estates. Everyone was very impressed, as witnessed by effusive press reports. (For example: http://www.dailyfinance.com/2014/08/14/robin-williams-estate-plan-spares-his-heirs-drama/ .)

Alas, Orkans, methinks we spoke too soon. A Williams family squabble has spilled into public, with Robin’s third wife filing suit to challenge the interpretation of his estate plan as it pertains to  – (care to guess here? His houses? His accounts? His awards?)- his ‘knick knacks.’ Yes, there is probate litigation over ‘knick knacks.’ In this case, the knick knacks in question include antique weapons, theater masks, rare book, fossils, and graphic novels. If you want the gory details, you can read about it here: http://money.us/1CsS4fP ; http://usat.ly/1DAGDQe; http://nyti.ms/1zy4iBy . Despite lawyerly protestations to the contrary, it seems like it’s headed for a ‘Shazbotian’ mess.

Estate plans and the small stuff…

The scary thing about this situation is that it is all too common. Most estate plans focus on big-ticket items such as real estate, bank accounts, and investments. But what about the piece of jewelry that is at least four generations old? Or the cookbook that has your great grandmother’s notes in the margin? Or the old English tea set that your mother only used on special occasions? It is very often these items of high sentimental value that cause the most discord among heirs.

Sentimental items should be included in your estate plan. The distributive provisions in your trust (the part that says who gets what) can include specific bequests of tangible personal property to specific beneficiaries. A practical approach is to photograph items of sentimental value, label the photos with an accurate description of the item, and designate a primary and secondary beneficiary for the item. With the advent of smartphones, this is a much easier task today than it would have been even five years ago.

We know you have a loving and close family where everyone loves and respects each other. In which case, talking with your family, heirs, friends, loved ones or whomever else you want to inherit your ‘knick knacks’ should not be a particularly stressful event. Figure out who should get what. If it’s an item with a strong sentimental value but low market value, discuss it with the beneficiary and then take your photos and do your homework.

So don’t let your knick knacks give you a paddy whack. Pay attention to the ‘little’ stuff. Until next time, nanu nanu, fellow Orkans.

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