I'll Be There for You: Lessons from Matthew Perry's Estate

House and money

When Matthew Perry died unexpectedly at the age of 54 in 2023, many fans grieved as if the Friends actor had been one of their own friends. After all, millions of people watched him play Chandler Bing over the show’s decade-long run in prime time, and for decades since in syndication. Perry knew he would be remembered for his most famous role—but he wanted to be remembered for more: helping people fight addiction.

At the height of his fame, Matthew Perry struggled with alcohol and opioid addiction, taking as many as 55 pills a day after he was prescribed Vicodin for injuries from a 1997 jet ski accident. His friends and coworkers were there for him, just like in his show’s theme song. But unlike a sitcom episode, Perry’s recovery from addiction was neither funny nor brief. He struggled with his demons for much of the rest of his life, and one of his greatest joys was giving help and hope to others on a similar journey. “When I help that one person get sober,” he observed, “it’s like standing under a Hawaiian waterfall.”

In a 2022 interview after the release of his memoir, “Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing,” Perry stated, “When I die, I don’t want ‘Friends’ to be the first thing that’s mentioned. I want [helping people] to be the first thing that’s mentioned, and I’m gonna live the rest of my life proving that.”

It’s unlikely that Matthew Perry knew when he made that statement how short the rest of his life would be. But even in death, the wealth he accumulated continues to benefit others.

What We Do (and Don’t) Know About Matthew Perry’s Estate

Matthew Perry’s estate was valued at an estimated $120 million dollars, with approximately $20 million per year coming in in residuals. Had he died without any estate plan, the probate process for his estate would have been a matter of public record. At this point in time, it appears that Perry did good estate planning.

It recently came to light that Matthew Perry did have a will, executed in 2009, which directed that any children he might have would not be entitled to his estate assets. In California and most other states, the law allows a person to disinherit an adult child. However, Perry did not have any known children.

Perry’s will also directed that most of his assets be placed in his revocable living trust, named the “Alvy Singer Living Trust,” after Woody Allen’s character in the movie Annie Hall. He reportedly named his parents, half-sister, and former girlfriend as beneficiaries of the trust.

Assets in a trust are not administered through probate, but by a trustee named in the trust. For those who value privacy regarding their families and financial matters, a trust is a good option. News outlets reported that Perry left personal property valued at $1,030,00, but that would not have included any assets contained in the trust. A will, unlike a trust, does go through the probate process, so its contents are a matter of public record.

Because of the size of Matthew Perry’s estate, unless he did some tax planning prior to his death, about 90% of the estate would have been subject to 40% estate tax. ($12.92 million of the estate would have been protected from estate tax by the lifetime exemption available to all taxpayers, leaving about $107 million exposed to taxation.)

However, it is possible that the terms of his trust (which, again, are private) or additional trusts reflected some such planning. Notwithstanding the same, about a month after Perry’s death, the National Philanthropic Trust established the Matthew Perry Foundation, a donor-advised fund, to help those struggling with addiction. This organization could have offered the estate significant estate tax savings by providing charitable deductions.

The Matthew Perry Foundation: What’s a “Donor-Advised Fund?”

A donor-advised fund (DAF) is essentially a charitable investment account whose purpose is to support the charitable causes that matter to you. The account is established with a 501(c)(3) public charity which is the sponsoring organization. You make contributions to the account, and receive an immediate tax deduction for those contributions. As the donor, you can advise the fund when and where to direct grants from your account.

Unsurprisingly, the Matthew Perry Foundation’s stated purpose is “to honor Matthew Perry’s profound legacy and unwavering commitment to helping others struggling with the disease of addiction.” As a DAF, the Foundation does not itself operate programs or offer services for addiction issues, but it makes financial grants to organizations that do.

Creating a DAF through his revocable trust would have allowed Matthew Perry to continue helping those dealing with addiction even after his own death, and if structured properly, to remove millions of dollars in assets from his taxable estate. (Again, we can’t be certain that this is how events unfolded because of the privacy afforded by a trust.)

Is a Donor-Advised Fund Right for You?

Few people have an estate worth $120 million dollars to shield from estate tax as Matthew Perry did. But you don’t have to be a multimillionaire to benefit from using a DAF; some funds accept initial contributions of only a few thousand dollars. Nor do you need to create a DAF through your estate plan after your death. You can make contributions during your lifetime, and also make the DAF a beneficiary of your estate at your death.

A donor-advised fund can be a good option for anyone who wants to support a favored cause while maximizing tax benefits. A DAF can also be a good way to involve family members in charitable giving. An estate planning attorney can advise you of the best way to create a DAF, as well as other options for charitable giving, such as setting up a charitable trust.

Contact an Experienced Estate Planning Attorney to Secure Your Legacy

If you are thinking about your legacy, a knowledgeable attorney can help ensure that you are remembered for the good you did in the world. The experienced estate planning attorneys at Barron, Rosenberg, Mayoras & Mayoras work with clients regarding trust and estate planning matters to help ensure their future wishes are carried out. Schedule a consultation today by calling (248) 213-9514 in Michigan or (941) 222-2199 in Florida to learn how we can assist you. You can also use our simple online contact form.