A Cautionary Tale: The Will of Philip Seymour Hoffman

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A Cautionary Tale: The Will of Philip Seymour Hoffman

Phillip Seymour Hoffman was one of the most talented actors of his generation. When he passed away of a drug overdose in February of this year, he left behind a brilliant career, a grieving partner, three children—and a Will that cannot do justice to his last wishes.

Filed in Manhattan Superior Court, the Will of Mr. Hoffman was signed in 2004, a year after the birth of his first child. Small omissions in his Will make a big difference in the legacy Mr. Hoffman sought to leave behind.

Consider these points:

  • Reportedly prepared by a real estate attorney, the Will did not address the fine points of law required for the distribution of assets Mr. Hoffman desired.
  • While Marianne O’Donnell, the longtime partner of Mr. Hoffman, is named the primary beneficiary of the Will, the two were not married. Because they remained unmarried, even as the estate of Mr. Hoffman grew to approximately $35 million, Ms. O’Donnell cannot take advantage of a marital deduction. The deduction would have allowed the full bequest to flow to Ms. O’Donnell. As it stands, Ms. O’Donnell may pay up to $15 million in taxes on the inheritance.
  • The Will was executed in 2004, ten years before Mr. Hoffman passed away. In that time, Mr. Hoffman did not update the Will to include his two daughters. Had Mr. Hoffman consulted with an attorney focused on estate planning, he might have amended the Will to better protect Ms. O’Donnell and the children born after execution of the original Will.
  • Mr. Hoffman set up a trust fund for his first-born child, a son named Cooper. In the Will, his son is named to receive assets of the trust when he reaches the age of 30. The trust protects the inheritance only until his son is of age. Trusts of this nature are commonly structured to allow the beneficiary freedom to select successive trustees at a certain age, not to release the sum of the inheritance itself.
  • New York law may protect the inheritance of the two daughters not named in the Will. Still, the law may not apply if Mr. Hoffman later named either daughter as beneficiary of other insurance or retirement fund accounts.

Legal action will no doubt be required to resolve these and other issues. The death—and the flawed Will—of Mr. Hoffman serve as a cautionary tale. When you seek to take care of loved ones in New Jersey, speak with a knowledgeable attorney who focuses his practice on Wills and estate planning.  If you would like Alec Borenstein, Esq., partner in the law firm to visit you for a free consultation, please email alec@bmcestateplanning.com.

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