Battle for Robin Williams’ Estate

Judge Asks Robin Williams’ Widow, Children to Settle Estate Battle Outside Courtroom is the title of an article posted on March 30, 2015, in the L.A. Times. Mr. William’s widow, Susan Schneider Williams, argued that his three adult children (from his earlier marriage) were claiming memorabilia to which she had the superior right. As a result, the parties battled over the meaning of the term “knick-knack.” Seriously? Yes!

Going With Love

But Mr. Williams, an intensely private person, had vested the power of dispersal of those 975 items in trustees. Despite his instructions, Ms. Williams petitioned for a judge to make those decisions.

When the trustees responded that the petition to force the issue was premature, the judge advised the parties to settle their dispute before their upcoming hearing.

The comedian’s widow and children would do well to heed the judge’s advice

If the trustees and the parties would take the time to identify their goals, to understand why they want certain items, they might be able to reach an amicable accord and not waste their own precious resources on litigation. Mr. Williams understood this concept; he had used the collaborative dispute resolution process when he got divorced. He described the process in an interview with People Magazine as “going with love.” Mr. William’s widow and his adult children are no longer in a relationship because the one person connecting them is gone. Is there a way for them to “go with love?”

Interest Based Negotiation

Collaborative practice is premised on the concept of interest-based negotiation. The concept is illustrated by a story of two people fighting over an orange:

There are two people; they both need an orange, but there is only one orange. When they uncover their true interests, however, they discover that one person needs the zest of the orange for baking, while the other person needs the juice for making mimosas. If they only consider their competing positions (“I need the whole orange”) and don’t drill down to their interests (zest versus juice), they might just cut it down the middle, which doesn’t serve anyone’s purpose; they both lose. Or a judge might give the orange to one or to the other, in which case one clearly wins and one clearly loses. However, if they reveal the reasons behind why they want the orange, they will realize how to share the orange to benefit them both.

Mr. Williams’ adult children accused his widow of appraising his “knick-knacks” just so she could sell them. Ms. Williams’ claimed there were “knick-knacks” in her home that were stolen without her permission. Without a collaborative approach, mistrust seeps into the process and destroys a reasonable person’s objectivity. In the case of the orange, this would be like one party accusing the other of leaving the orange in the sun so that it would spoil faster.

The Parties Share The Same Interest

People often say that divorce and death are similar because they both end a relationship. In the case of the Williams’ estate, I bet if the parties talk about why they want the various items, it will become clear to whom each one should go. I’d like to think that they both want to honor the man they loved, perhaps just in different ways.

When my grandmother died, one of my sisters wanted her pearl necklace. My sister said that the necklace made her feel beautiful just like my grandmother did when she taught her how to wear make-up. I chose a book sitting on my grandmother’s bookshelf. It reminded me of the conversations we had about life. I opened the book when I was confused about what to do next. The book made me feel like my grandmother was sitting next to me, still advising me. My sister and I loved different things about my grandmother and our relationships with her were each uniquely our own.

Recognize What Makes Your Relationship Unique

If Mr. William’s children and his wife had a safe place to share the uniqueness of their relationship with him, they might be able to share why the items have meaning to each of them. The parties did end up settling their dispute out of court. Ms. William’s received enough money to remain in the house they shared together. She was also awarded some sentimental items, such as their wedding gifts and a bike they bought on their honeymoon. The Williams Children received some of his collections and his Academy Award statue.

If you’d like to end your marriage with kindness and with love, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at Open Palm Law. We are committed to helping your family heal and reach resolutions, regardless of the process you take to get there.

Learn more about collaborative divorce. Follow Open Palm Law.

Need advice now? Contact Joryn!

About this week’s author, Joryn Jenkins.

Joryn, attorney and Open Palm Founder, began her own firm here in Tampa after a 14-year career in law, two of which she served as a professor of law at Stetson University. She is a recipient of the prestigious A. Sherman Christensen Award, an honor bestowed in the United States Supreme Court upon those who have provided exceptional leadership in the American Inns of Court Movement. For more information on Joryn’s professional experience, take a look at her resume.

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