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Late actor's will highlights importance of updating

There are a lot of common misperceptions that prevent people from executing a will, and this can create a lot of problems for their families. Many Washington residents think that writing a will is something only for rich people, but in fact all types of families can greatly benefit from a valid will. Many Washingtonians think that they'll get around to writing a will when they're older, but of course none of us knows when our wills will be necessary. And many Washingtonians think that once they've executed a will they never have to update it. However, a lot can change in a person's life between writing the will and the person's death, and it can be important to make sure the will continues to represent the person's final wishes.

The will of the recently deceased Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman represents how some of these factors can work. The stage and film actor, widely regarded as among the best of his generation, struggled with heroin addiction and died from an apparent drug overdose at age 46. He left behind three children with his longtime companion.

After his death, Hoffman's will was revealed to have left his entire estate to his companion. It also expressed his desire that his son be raised in New York, San Francisco or Chicago - notably not in Hollywood. The will was executed in 2004, when Hoffman's son was an infant, and before his two daughters were born.

Under the laws of Washington and all other states, a surviving spouse will get at least part of the estate of a spouse who died without a valid will. The estate of an unmarried person without a will passes to surviving relatives, even if the deceased had a longtime companion. It's important for those who wish to provide for an unmarried partner to put that person in their will. It's also important to update one's will to reflect changes in one's life, such as the birth of a child, a divorce or the death of a relative.

Source: CNN, "Philip Seymour Hoffman's will guides son away from Hollywood," Alan Duke and Rande Iaboni, Feb. 19, 2014

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