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Philip Seymour Hoffman's Outdated Will Creates Legal Challenges

Daryll Pomey Orat - Sunday, February 02, 2014

There’s a reason why every California estate planning lawyer advises people to update their will frequently to factor in changes in their lives and circumstances. Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died recently, seems to have failed to update his will, creating possible legal challenges for his family.

The actor’s will was signed in October 2004, and at that time, he had just one child, his 11-year-old son, Cooper. After the will was signed, he had two more children, and neither of those names was updated in the will. Matters get more complicated when you look at his household situation. The actor was not married to his longtime companion, who happens to be the mother of the children.

That means that the mother is at risk of being heavily taxed as federal and state estate taxes apply to the estate. In New York, the woman will not be eligible for any estate tax breaks, which are typically available only to spouses. These estate exemptions are called marital deductions, and in the absence of those deductions, the amount of estate tax on the approximately $35 million Hoffman estate could be more than $15 million. Those taxes will apply again on the estate when she dies.

Besides, Hoffman’s companion could face problems if she tries to establish a trust that would bypass her estate, and would not be eligible for estate taxes. The trust issue will likely be a headache for her estate planning lawyers, because the trust in the will only mentions the older son, and not the younger children. It mentions that he will get half the principal at the age of 25, and the remaining 50% at the age of 30.

These legal challenges could have been avoided if the actor had simply updated his will, after the birth of his two children.

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