Examining the Estate of Philip Seymour Hoffman

On February 2, 2014, Philip Seymour Hoffman died of a drug overdose at the age of 46.  He was an Academy Award winning actor who appeared in many productions on stage and screen.  He was survived by his life partner, Mimi O’Donnell, and their three children, Cooper (10), Tallulah (7) and Willa (5).  His estate was worth approximately $35 million.

After his eldest child was born, Mr. Hoffman went to an attorney to have his Will prepared.  That Will, dated October 7, 2004, left his entire estate to Mimi.  However, in the event that Mimi disclaimed or predeceased Hoffman, the will stipulated that a trust would be established for Cooper, providing for his health, education, maintenance and support.  Cooper would receive one-half the principal at 25 and the balance at 30.

Although Hoffman’s estate grew over the past 10 years of his life, it is clear that he had a substantial estate at the time he executed his Will, as he had long since been a successful actor.

There are many problems with this plan.  First, it exposes the estate to many taxes.  As he was unmarried, his estate is subject to both federal estate tax, and any New York death tax, because Mimi cannot claim the marital deduction.  When she dies, these assets will be taxed another time, assuming she leaves them to her children.  If she engages in another relationship, they could pass to another partner or spouse.

Second, the Will makes no affirmative provision for children who were born to or adopted by Hoffman after the Will but before his death.  Fortunately, New York law provides for after-born children, and Hoffman’s two youngest children are lucky, as exceptions to the law did not apply in this case.

Third, the trust provides for an outright distribution to Cooper, and by law, the others, at 25 and 30, it is conceivable that they could receive millions of dollars at an age at which they are not yet mature.  These distributions will be outright, and thus the assets will be included in the estates of the children, subject to claims of creditors and spouses, as well as death taxes, when they die.

Although many of us do not enjoy estates of this size, our estates are nevertheless important.  To that extent, any attorney will not suffice.  A lifetime of work should be honored by selecting a qualified counselor to plan an estate that protects assets generated and fulfills respective goals.


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