The Estate of Philip Seymour Hoffman – A Looming Legal Battle?

After starring in many blockbuster films, including Mission Impossible III and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Philip Seymour Hoffman amassed a net worth of roughly $35 million dollar, according to The question now is – where will that money will go?

Hoffman was not married, but did have a longstanding relationship with a girlfriend. Hoffman also had three children.We don’t know, as of the date of this posting, whether Hoffman had a will or any trust instrument set up for his family.

If Hoffman died intestate (i.e. without a will), his estate will be distributed by the laws of intestate succession. Those laws are state-based, though many states have adopted a version of the Uniform Probate Code. This would likely result in his children receiving the bulk of his estate. His long-time girlfriend would likely not receive a substantial portion, if any, of the estate. Why? Well, it appears Hoffman was a resident of New York since he lived in Greenwich Village. If his estate is subject to New York intestacy laws, the statute states that a decedent leaves “issue” (i.e. children) and no spouse, then “whole to the issue, by representation”.

If Hoffman had a will or trust established, then there is no concern over intestate distribution. The terms of the will and/or trust will dictate how his estate is distributed. Though, if there are multiple versions of his will or a party seeks to contest the validity of the will, then we could have a looming legal battle on our hands.

How could the validity of Hoffman’s will be contested? Well, numerous reports confirm that Hoffman struggled with a terrible heroin addiction. If there is any evidence that he made a will while under the influence of drugs, an argument could be made that Hoffman lacked testamentary capacity. Generally, it takes less capacity to make a will than to do any other legal act. A four-prong test is usually employed to determine if the testator had capacity. The testator must:

(1) Know the nature of the act (of making a will);
(2) Know the “natural objects of his bounty”;
(3) Know the nature and extent of his property;
(4) Understand the disposition of the assets called for by the will.

If Hoffman lacked this capacity, a party could challenge the will and how his assets were to be distributed.

Let’s hope a legal challenge can be avoided. In many instances, will challenges can be time-consuming, expensive, and routinely result in hurt feelings and damaged relationships between relatives and loved ones.