Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s last will and testament contained a somewhat ironic request. He made the will in 2004, well before his apparent heroin overdose in his Manhattan apartment. He signed the will form when he only had one child, his now 11-year-old son named Cooper. Costume designer Marianne “Mimi” O’Donnell is Cooper’s mother. Besides his son Cooper, he went on to have two daughters with O’Donnell. The three children live with their mother in an apartment just a few blocks from the one in which he died. His estate planning failed to include his daughters, since he didn’t update his will after their birth.
Ms. O’Donnell will inherit the bulk of his probate estate. He created a trust fund, which allows the trustee to distribute half of its assets to Cooper when he turns 25, and the rest at age 30. He also created a guardianship for his son, and left instructions regarding his preferences for his son’s residence. He expressed his desire that the guardian raise his son in Manhattan, San Francisco or Chicago, in order for Cooper to get exposure to the arts, architecture, and culture these cities offer. He further requested that his son visit these cities at least twice a year during the guardianship if he didn’t reside there.
Mr. Hoffman died at the age of 46, due to a return drug use after a 23-year period of sobriety. While he apparently thought living in Manhattan would be a better influence for his son than Hollywood, it’s ironic that he died there with a needle in his arm.
There are various lessons to be learned from Mr. Hoffman’s tragic death. One is that your last will should be reviewed periodically for needed updates, due to changed circumstances like the birth of a child, divorce, marriage, new home purchase, etc. However, Hoffman did set a good example by using a living trust to ensure some control over his assets after his death. This turned out to be a wise move, since an 11-year-old is too immature to properly handle an outright inheritance through a will.
Another is that drug use is deadly, even after a prolonged period of abstinence. Moreover, geographic boundaries don’t protect people from the dangers of drug use. The disease of addiction doesn’t discriminate based on residence, sex, wealth, or other factors. Even if you live in a glamorous city like Manhattan, have lots of money, and are adored by many fans, drug use can still lead to an ugly death.
Perhaps the most important lesson is how fragile and precious life is. Even sober people aren’t immune to unfortunate events. Therefore, we all need to be prepared for the unexpected. A child’s guardianship, like Phillip Seymour Hoffman created, can be established in a will. Even if you’re not wealthy, probate law provides this valuable tool for ensuring that your final wishes for your assets and care of loved ones are carried out. We don’t like to think about our mortality. However, it’s better to spend a few minutes thinking about your estate plan than leave legal loose ends for those you leave behind to untangle.
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