Trust Fund Babies: They’re Just Like Us?

The last wishes of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman have leaked to the public and there are some interesting details in his will about what he wanted done with his money:

Philip Seymour Hoffman rejected his accountant’s suggestion he set aside money for his three children because he didn’t want them to be ‘trust fund’ kids, according to new court documents. In a July 18 filing in Manhattan Surrogate Court, the actor’s accountant David Friedman recalled conversations with Hoffman where the topic of a trust for his children was raised. He said Hoffman wanted his estimated $35 million fortune to go his longtime partner and the children’s mother, Mimi O’Donnell.

It’s a kind of unusual choice. My dad always inveighed against “trust fund kids” when we were growing up; his hostility toward them in the abstract was a main reason he sent my brothers and me to religious school instead of one of the DC-area’s numerous posh private schools. Did a six-year-old in a Harvard sweatshirt kick sand in his face one time, or did some bouncy-haired, Varsity-jacketed schmuck driving his father’s convertible steal my dad’s high school girlfriend?

I had no idea, and I never asked why he was so sure ready money ruined children. I just knew if I wanted to get a rise out of him I could joke about making friends with someone who had a yacht.

In college, I met some people who had trust funds and was surprised by the way they looked and acted just like everyone else: shopped at the local Goodwill, drank from red plastic party cups, talked about what they would do with their lives once college ended. Of course, in our small, earnest, liberal arts college environment, no one wanted to brag about being loaded. People tried to wear their privilege invisibly. Did we even know who was rich and who wasn’t? In a few cases, it came up, usually in terms of who was struggling with decisions about consolidating student loans and who didn’t have to worry about Financial Aid. But largely, no. Inherited wealth didn’t mark, or ruin, anyone, so far as I could tell.

The real crucible, of course, is post-college life. Does inherited wealth sap your initiative, kill your creativity, keep you from being able to relate to your peers, unless you only run in packs with other heiresses in the South of France? My friends who have those kinds of structural supports generally floundered through their twenties, trying on and discarding various professional identities; but then, often, so did my deeply-in-debt friends. Only, in the case of my less-fortunate friends, they had to cope with a higher degree of stress.

Especially in the case of an award-wining and beloved movie star’s kids, where they will be movie star kids regardless and their mom will have dozens of millions of dollars to spend on them even if they don’t have access to that money themselves, will it make a difference not to have trust funds? Is PSH protecting his children or acting on prejudice? Is his not leaving them money in trusts a technicality?

Elsewhere in his will, he also specifies that his son — understood to mean his children, because upon that writing his younger daughters hadn’t yet been born — would be raised in or near Manhattan, Chicago, or San Francisco. In other words, NOT LOS ANGELES but still someplace expensive. If he had read this terrifying piece in The Cut about a professional party girl’s summer of getting paid to be pretty in the Hamptons, though, he might have thought twice.

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