The death of acclaimed, Academy award-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman at the age of 46 was a great tragedy to his family, friends and fans. Making the circumstance even worse, estate planning experts concluded that Hoffman’s estate plan was a “mess,” falling prey to many common estate planning mistakes. The sad situation highlights that bad estate planning can happen to anyone, and that each person who cares about his/her estate should be vigilant to avoid the types of errors that befell Hoffman and others.
First, Hoffman failed to engage in proper estate plan maintenance. His will was a decade old and had not been updated. Most people will experience some sort of life event with 10 years’ time — a birth, death, marriage, divorce or other — that impacts one’s estate plan. Regularly updating your estate plan helps ensure that the plan carried out after you die matches your objectives as they existed when you died, not as they were years earlier.
Second, the actor’s estate plan was publicly available. Privacy is a high-ranking goal for many people when they consider estate planning, especially someone as famous as an Oscar-winning actor. One way to maximize the privacy of your plan is through the use of proper trust planning. A trust (or trusts) may help you avoid probate and, as a result, help you minimize the extent to which the aspects of estate, including your assets and your distribution instructions, become public records available for viewing by anyone.