Estate Planning Tips Courtesy Of Philip Seymour Hoffman and Heath Ledger

Philip Seymour Hoffman and Heath Ledger were  

  1. Brilliant actors.
  2. Who died young from a drug overdose.
  3. And left a pretermitted child.

Actually, Hoffman left two pretermitted children.

A pretermitted child is one who is born or adopted during a person’s lifetime,  but after the person signed his will.  Most states have laws that will give a forced inheritance to an after-born child.  How that is accomplished is decided on a state-by-state basis.

Heath Ledger and Philip Seymour Hoffman both had wills.  When Ledger signed his 3-page will, he did not have any children, and he divided his estate among his sisters and his parents.   After  his child was born, Ledger did not amend his will.  To complicate matters, there was uncertainty about whether his will would be governed by the laws of Australia (where he was a citizen), California (where he did most of his work) or New York (where he died).   Fortunately, his sisters and parents agreed to give the entire inheritance to Ledger’s child, thus avoiding a protracted and costly court battle.

Hoffman signed a will with a trust that benefited his only child, Cooper.  The trust did not include any reference to “children later born to or adopted by me.”   Hoffman then had two more children.   Hoffman died in New York.  In that state, like Texas, the law may write the children into the trust so they share equally with Cooper.  Or it may not – if, for example, Hoffman left an insurance policy benefitting the two after-born children, then the pretermitted law would not apply to them.

No one will ever know Ledger and Hoffman’s wishes regarding  their later-born children.  That is a sad legacy to leave.