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Celebrities can teach valuable lessons about trusts and estates

When a celebrity passes away, average Americans often learn a number of estate planning lessons. Celebrities who achieve a significant degree of wealth often fall into one of two categories: those with excellent estate plans and those with estate plans that are seriously lacking or nonexistent. Either way, there is plenty to be learned by Washington, D.C. residents from observing the actions taken by others when it comes to trusts and estates.

Take, for example, the estate plan created by comedian Robin Williams. When Williams died last year, he left his heirs with a carefully constructed plan for how his assets would be distributed. One of the more inventive aspects of Williams' estate plan was a provision that restricts the use of his image for a period of 25 years following the date of his death. This means that no party is allowed to use his image for any advertisements, performances or movie appearances. Because current technology makes such uses possible, the restrictions written into Williams' estate plan demonstrate a savvy approach to the protection of intangible assets.

Another aspect of the estate plan is the manner in which Williams created a charitable trust to which he gave the rights to his signature, likeness, name and image. The trust was set up as a charitable organization, named the Windfall Foundation. An additional precaution was taken in stating that if the foundation is deemed ineligible to receive a charitable deduction by the IRS, then the publicity rights held by the trust are to be given to various established charities that can claim that deduction. This extra step will help ensure that the assets included in the trust are used for charitable purposes and are not unduly taxed.

For those in Washington, D.C. who are considering how to structure their own estate plans, the example provided by the Williams' estate can be of great value. If nothing else, the example demonstrates the flexibility that is available in trusts and estates. Each individual will have his or her own set of planning priorities, but it is reassuring to know that there is a solution available to fit virtually every set of needs.

Source: yahoo.com, "Robin Williams Restricted Exploitation of His Image for 25 Years After Death", Eriq Gardner, March 31, 2015

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