When Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died of a drug overdose in February at age 46, he left behind three children ages 10 and under — and the entirety of his estimated $35 million fortune to their mother, his longtime partner, Mimi O'Donnell.
Why didn't Hoffman bequeath any of his estate directly to his son and two daughters? According to documents filed in Manhattan's Surrogate Court and obtained this week by E! News, Hoffman had told his accountant that he "did not want his children to be considered 'trust fund' kids."
Hoffman's decision seems to hint at a common worry among the wealthy. In late June, a survey by law firm Withers LLP found that the second biggest concern for respondents who are worth $10 million or more was that their children "will lack the drive and ambition to get ahead."
Hoffman wasn't the only celebrity concerned about the impact of a huge inheritance. Sting recently said he won't be leaving his $300 million fortune to his kids. "I certainly don’t want to leave them trust funds that are albatrosses round their necks," he told The Daily Mail. "They have to work. All my kids know that and they rarely ask me for anything, which I really respect and appreciate.”
Billionaire businessman Warren Buffett is taking a slightly different approach. While he has pledged the majority of his $44.7 billion estate to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (and another chunk to the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation, an education charity he founded with his first wife), his three children aren't being completely left out. Each stands to inherit about $2.1 billion in stock over time.
"The old saying is: You leave them enough to do something, not enough to do nothing," said TODAY's Matt Lauer, a father himself, on the show Tuesday during a discussion of Hoffman's decision.
"If you're lucky enough to have some money to leave for your kids in the first place, you don't want to give them so much that they aren't motivated," agreed Savannah Guthrie, who is pregnant with her first child. "So many success stories have to do with people who started with nothing and really came up and built something."
TODAY.com readers seemed to applaud wealthy parents for wanting to foster self-sufficiency in their children, with some noting that the issue isn't just a concern for moms and dads with large bank accounts.
"I think a lot of parents worry about this," wrote Lauren Shissler on the TODAY Parents Facebook page. "We aren't wealthy by any means but often times I do wonder if I've given my kids too much, too many toys, too many freedoms."
"I see people at all financial levels who simply do too much for their children," wrote Stephanie Frederick Wentzel. "Bottom line for all parents is to start creating expectations for your kids and don't let them off the hook when they fall short."
That's not to say some parents aren't indulgent. Joked TODAY's Carson Daly, a father of two, "I think I'd just ask the kids: How much do you want me to leave you?"