Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died from a drug overdose in February 2014. Sadly, he left behind three young children - and a fortune estimated to be worth $35 million.
He was only 46.
After his death, Mr. Hoffman’s Last Will and Testament was filed for probate.
The Will is short – only 15 pages – and, it was signed on October 7, 2004, about a year and a half after the actor’s first child was born.
The Will leaves his entire estate to Marianne “Mimi” O’Donnell, a costume designer and the mother of all three of Mr. Hoffman’s children.
The couple never married and had separated in 2013 (due to Mr. Hoffman’s recurring drug problems).
Estate Planning Mistake #1 – Using a Will:
Shortly after Mr. Hoffman’s Will was filed, The New York Post published it online and his final wishes instantlybecame public information.
We know his request to have his son (the only child living when the Will was signed) raised in Manhattan, Chicago, or San Francisco so that he "will be exposed to the culture, arts and architecture that such cities offer."
There is another way – a private way. A Revocable Living Trust (as used by Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Walker) would have kept Mr. Hoffman’s final wishes a private matter.
Estate Planning Mistake #2 – Failing to Update His Estate Plan
Mr. Hoffman signed his Will in October 2004.
During the next nine years, he had two daughters, won an Oscar for best actor for his performance in Capote, and amassed the majority of his fortune.
Considering Mr. Hoffman's well-documented, long-term struggle with drug addiction as well as the significant changes in his life and net worth during those nine years, it is surprising that he failed to update his estate plan.
At the very least, your estate plan should be reviewed every few years to insure that it still does what you want it to do and takes into consideration changes in your finances, your family, and the law.
Estate Planning Mistake #3 – Ignoring a Trusted Advisor:
In probate court documents filed in July, it was revealed that Mr. Hoffman’s accountant repeatedly advised him to protect his children with a trust fund. But the actor ignored this good advice.
With the terms of the old 2004 Will left unchanged, the estate will pass to Mr. Hoffman’s estranged girlfriend, outright and without any protections.
Nothing will go directly to his children.
Had Mr. Hoffman listened to his accountant and worked with an estate planning attorney, he could have established a lasting legacy for his children, protecting them and their inheritances.
The take away from this tragedy is that proper planning is crucial to ensure the well being of your loved one’s after you are no longer around. While everyone believes that it, “won’t happen to me”, the reality is that it does. It happens to all of us, whether we are ready or not. For me, this is a perfect example of the importance of proper planning. Through proper planning you not only ensure that your wishes are carried out, but can rest easy knowing that you have taken every available step to plan for the inevitable. I believe in the adage: plan for the worst and hope for the best.
In summary, with the counseling and advice of an experienced estate planning attorney, you can avoid mistakes like Mr. Hoffman’s—and know that your loved ones will be properly cared for when the inevitable happens.
If you are interested in ensuring that your family is cared for after you have passed away, please call our office at 415-625-0773 to schedule your free estate planning consultation with San Francisco’s premiere estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller.