Robin Williams, like more and more people, had a Living Trust. A Living Trust will allow a person to leave his or her estate free of “probate”. When you die, everything you own (without a beneficiary designation) will be part of probate. Probate is the government’s oversight of the settling of your affairs. (Download Probate 101 Presentation)
Assets held or titled in the Living Trust will pass free of probate. Accounts are kept open, passwords are not lost, and all details are kept completely private from the rest of the public world. Probate records are part of the public record and are available for viewing by anyone at almost anytime. The Living Trust assets are private.
Robin Williams probably owned real estate in more than one state. If he did, and if he didn’t have his out of state property owned by his Living Trust, then he would have been subject to estate administration in his home state and the other states where the real estate was located. Real estate is the only asset that you can own in another state that actually pulls you into that particular state’s probate process. Simply having a bank account or a brokerage account in another state does not.
Remember, however, for Robin Williams to take full advantage of “avoiding probate” (whether with his California estate or his out-of-state real estate) he would have had his assets (bank accounts, brokerage accounts, real estate, etc.) all owned by his Living Trust. If he had a Living Trust but didn’t re-title his assets into his Living Trust before his tragic death last week, then his Living Trust wouldn’t have provided the benefit of avoiding probate.
Excellent article: “The life of comic genius Robin Williams brought joy to millions of fans, and his tragic death has sent shock waves throughout the entertainment community. But as painful as his loss will be for family, friends and fans, it appears that at leastaccording to early reports, Williams took care of business when it came to setting up a solid estate plan.” https://www.dailyfinance.com/2014/08/14/robin-williams-estate-plan-spares-his-heirs-drama/