Celebrities and their Trusts
In 2014, the world was shocked by the suicide of Robin Williams. Many had loved him, from his early role as a comedian to classic films like Good Morning, Vietnam and Mrs Doubtfire. However, a major concern, in common with many celebrities who die before their time, was how his children would be provided for.
In the end, it does not make a difference if you are celebrity worth millions, like Williams, or whether you have a family home and a few other assets. The importance of making sure that your children will be all right after your death should be paramount.
Robin Williams’ legacy
At the time of his death, Robin Williams was estimated by Forbes to have had a fortune of at least $50 million, but this may be an underestimation. He had made provisions, and this figure may exclude money already set aside.
Williams left three children, of whom the eldest, Zachary, was 31 at the time of his father’s death. However, he had provided for them well in advance by setting up two Trust Funds.
The first was what is known in the US as a Spendthrift Trust, although the UK equivalent is called a Protective Trust. Under this type of Trust, the beneficiary does not gain access to all funds at the same time. This is sometimes set up when there is a specific concern about the beneficiary’s spending — for example, if they are known to have a gambling, or a drug habit.
In this case, however, Williams was most likely just concerned about the effect on his children of potentially inheriting large sums of money at a young and vulnerable age. He consequently arranged for each child to gain access to proportions of their inheritance in three stages.
In this case, the arrangement was that each would receive one third of their share at the age of 21, one half at the age of 25 and the remainder at the age of 30. The consequence of this is that, if they should be reckless at 21, or even at 25, some money would still be left at an age when, hopefully, they may have learnt their lesson.
In the event, Zachary was old enough to receive the entire sum on his father’s death. Zelda, at 24, and Cody, at 23, received only the first sum straight off, although Zelda’s 25th birthday was only a few days after her father’s death. It is to be hoped that their father’s care has paid off.
Robin Williams’ property Trust
In addition to the Protective Trust for his children, Robin Williams also set up a Trust Fund for his various properties, including a mansion in Napa Valley and a waterfront home near San Francisco. He named this the Domus Dulcis Domus Holding Trust (the name meaning “Home Sweet Home”) with two Trustees.
This Trust protected the properties not only after Williams’ death, but also during his lifetime. Because they were technically no longer Williams’ personal property (nor that of his children) they could not be set against any debts that may have been accrued. Even if he had been declared bankrupt, the Trust would have protected the properties from the creditors.
Other celebrities and Trust Funds
Robin Williams is by no means the only celebrity who has taken advantage of the ability to protect their children’s inheritance through Trust Funds. Most celebrities, at least by the time they come to start families, tend to receive sound legal and financial advice, and are therefore aware of how this strategy can help to safeguard their children, especially in the event of an early death.
Many celebrities have set up Trust Funds for their children. Among them are:
• Elvis Presley, who set up a Trust Fund for his only child, Lisa Marie Presley. Unfortunately, this did not prevent most of the fortune from being lost, although whether this was due to reckless spending or outside mismanagement is in dispute. However, the Trust Fund gave Lisa Marie a chance to safeguard the money.
• Carrie Fisher’s death, in 2016, was as much of a shock as Robin Williams’. She left one child, her daughter Billie Lourd, and had set up a Trust Fund that included money and other property, including intellectual rights.
• Another of the many shock deaths of 2016, David Bowie left two children, separated by nearly 30 years, and had set up a Trust Fund to secure their inheritance. The eldest, film director Duncan Jones, was 44 at the time and therefore inherited straight away, whereas Bowie’s daughter Alexandria was only 15 and will not access her share until 2025.
On the other hand, some celebrities, from George Lucas to Mick Jagger, have taken the attitude that their children should not inherit a fortune they have not earned. This is, of course, a matter for personal choice. However, it remains vital that it should not happen by accident and against the parent’s wishes because they have failed to secure the estate.
You do not have to be a celebrity, of course, for it to be important that you ensure your children receive everything you intended after your death. Your estate may not run to tens or hundreds of millions of pounds, but it could make a big difference to your heirs.
If your children are still minors, setting up a Trust Fund can protect the assets you wish them to have until they are ready to inherit. You can organise the Trust so that funds can be spent on their behalf for specific needs during childhood, such as education costs. If you have confidence in them, you can arrange for them to gain control of the assets on their 18th birthdays, or else you can phase this over whatever period you choose.
You may also, like Robin Williams, decide to put your home into a Trust Fund now. You will be able to continue using it, but it would not be vulnerable to anyone you may owe money to, and inheritance after your death will be far more straightforward.
To make provisions for yourself and your family can give you real peace of mind. This is where a Trust can be beneficial in securing the future.
Our specialist Trusts team can help you with setting up a Trust, as well as all aspects of the Trust administration.
Please call us on 01525 378177, or contact us online.