Haimo Law - Wills, Trusts, Probate, Business Planning and Asset Protection

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Life and What We Can Learn From His Tragic Death

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Life and What We Can Learn From His Tragic Death


By: Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
February 5, 2014


Philip Seymour Hoffman died on February 2, 2014, in his West Village, New York City, NY apartment in what appears to be a heroin overdose. According to sources, his children were waiting in a playground a block away and were with their mother, Mimi O’Donnell, when she discovered he was dead. Read the article here and here. Sources say the actor was kicked out of his house by O’Donnell around three months ago because he had relapsed. Hoffman gained critical acclaim for a variety of movies revealing his depth of talent. Most notably, his best performances were:

  • Scotty J., Boogie Nights (1997)
  • Allen, Happiness (1998)
  • Lester Bangs, Almost Famous (2000)
  • Truman Capote, Capote (2005) (won an academy award for his role)
  • Gust Avrakotos, Charlie Wilson’s War (2007)
  • Lancaster Dodd, The Master (2012)
  • Günther Bachmann, A Most Wanted Man (2013)
  • and I’d personally like to add Twister (1996) and Along Came Polly (2004) to this list.

His career was blossoming and he had the potential to be one of the greatest actors of all time. His death is truly tragic. Hoffman is survived by his long-time partner, Mimi O’Donnell, and their three children Cooper Alexander Hoffman, Tallulah Hoffman, and Willa Hoffman. They appear to be minors and is not clear as of yet whether they are all his biological children. His estate is allegedly worth approximately 35 million not including future royalties.

Estate planning implications of his death:

Hoffman’s estate is definitely a taxable estate, as it exceeds the current unified credit of $5,340,000 in 2014 [IRC §2010(c)(3)]. It is not yet clear whether he had a Last Will and Testament, Revocable or Irrevocable Trust or other estate planning documents at this time. His estate will pass outside of probate if he planned ahead or via the laws of intestacy in the state in which he lived. Importantly, if he did not plan ahead, his circumstances could be problematic for a variety of reasons. First, it appears that Mimi O’Donnell is not his wife, but is his partner. This has at least a few very important consequences under federal and most states’ laws:

–1. Because he has a taxable estate, he cannot take advantage of the unlimited marital deduction and pass his entire estate above the unified credit to O’Donnell. As a result without proper planning, much of his entire estate may be subject to estate tax. At a present rate of 40%, this could mean that the United States Treasury will inherit $11,864,000 instead of his family. That’s ridiculous, especially since an affordable life insurance policy could have been used to pay it. Here’s a table of the estate tax unified credits and % tax rates since 1997.

–2. Depending on whether he has a will or trust or other planning vehicles in place, and depending on the laws of his domicile state, which I believe is New York, his estate will pass to his biological and adopted children equally. O’Donnell will not retain an interest other than as caretaker for his minor children, which represents another issue. His children are minors and cannot inherit property until they reach the age of majority in their state. If these children are from other women, their mother may likely be appointed guardian rather than O’Donnell who appears to be their current guardian.

–3. Also of great consequence is that future royalties or revenues deriving from his name and likeness may require keeping a probate estate open for an indefinite period of time similar, though on a smaller scale, to Michael Jackson’s estate. This will undoubtedly result in needless expenses and aggravation to his surviving family members who are obviously devastated by his passing and do not need a constant reminder of it.

–4. Finally, while this case is high profile, the fact that I can write a post like this demonstrates the lack of privacy you can expect from failing to plan an estate. All of these issues could have been avoided with a little planning and with the right team.

It is truly sad to know that Hoffman has left us far too soon. He gave us great performances and his future was as bright as any actor out there. However, his passing teaches us many lessons about estate and family planning that are difficult if not impossible to overlook. Rest in peace Philip.