The children and wife of the departed Robin Williams had a disagreement over the contents of the late comedians will. Since the matter is a hot topic for the media and paparazzi, both sides agreed to undergo mediation and keep it private.

Discussion of the will of a deceased loved one among family members can be a complicated situation. Most of the time, wills are not specific on how to divide property or possessions equally among spouse and children. Sometimes, these documents contain language that may favour a spouse or a son/daughter over others, causing resentment between family members. Conflicts like these can become more complex when there are other people staking a claim on the will of the departed person. These may be de facto partners, distant relatives or carers of the person before they passed away. If the deceased person remarried, the surviving spouse may contend with the children from previous marriages over the contents of the will. Scenarios like this can prompt family members to take the battle to court, often destroying their relationships with one another at a time they are needed the most. In addition, court proceedings expose the family dispute to the public, and are often costly.

Sadly, this is now the case between the children and the wife of the late actor Robin Williams. In his will, the deceased comedian stated that his clothing, jewellery and other personal belongings he had before his union with Susan Schneider would be given to his three children from previous marriages. The document covers the possessions of Williams in the home that he shares with Susan in Tiburon, California. However, Susan claims she holds the right to watches and other personal belongings of Williams in the Tiburon home, which they shared. The estate dispute went to a probate court in San Francisco, but both sides agreed to discuss the matter in private and undergo mediation in the latter part of this month. They opted to do this to prevent the issue from becoming a public spectacle.

However, the disagreement already brought animosity between those involved. For the children of Williams, Susan’s claim is “adding insult to the injury,” in trying to change their father’s will, according to their lawyers. With this in mind, can mediation resolve the estate dispute between both sides? Can they work together to discuss the issue, and reach a mutually-satisfying outcome?

Yes, through mediation they may be able to arrive at a resolution. Unlike litigation, mediation provides both sides the opportunity to air out their emotions during the discussion. For families who just lost a loved one, mediation takes into account their grief as they talk about the matter. The process also allows them to express their perspective that they could not discuss when their loved one was still alive.

Take a look at this example estate dispute about a seaside villa between two siblings; Ann and Jack. Ann owns one-third of the property while Jack owns two-thirds of it. A disagreement arose when they were dividing the time the villa could be used by each of them, and working out the financial responsibility for remodelling. During mediation, Ann admitted that she felt resentment for Jack because she believed her father preferred him over her to manage the property. Meanwhile, Jack felt that Ann did not appreciate his efforts to save the villa from outside ownership. However, both of them realised that it just wasn’t right to divide the property between them, since they both wanted to pass the villa to their children and grandchildren. This led them to compromise on the scheduling and remodelling costs, and settle on a solution that satisfied their mutual interests.

How will mediation resolve this dispute?
As seen in the example above, mediation allows both sides to express how they feel, and take into account each other’s interests in crafting a solution. The late Robin William’s will states that his children have a right to all his personal belongings prior to his marriage with Susan. She should not prevent them from obtaining all these possessions from their home in Tiburon. However, Williams’ children should, in exchange, compromise and allow her to keep the items she has requested for. According to her lawyer, these include the tuxedo Williams wore to their wedding, the wedding presents and maybe even the photos from Williams’ 60th birthday.
Of course, the above is just a suggestion, but that’s the beauty of mediation – the ability to consider creative outcomes. There’s no news yet whether both sides have reached a settlement since the mediation would be held in the latter part of this month. They have been given until June 1 to come to an agreement, and after this they would turn to court if required. Hopefully, both sides will reconcile their differences and solve the issue without court proceedings; this will allow them to peacefully honour the memory of late Robin Williams and move forward with their lives.