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The passing of Chadwick Boseman: A case study in intestate affairs

Chadwick Boseman’s tragic passing in 2020, and the settling of his estate, offer a glimpse into the need for a will–regardless of one’s age.

Chadwick Boseman

We are never entirely prepared for life’s major events, are we?

The birth of our first child, marrying the one we love, and achieving career success are all events that we may plan for–meticulously, even. But, no matter the amount of planning, we still wrestle with the details repeatedly.

Where do we get our child’s birth certificate? How do I legally change my name? While we may be less prepared than we hoped for, the future allows us to reconfigure ourselves and continually improve our situation.

Less positive events, such as the passing of a loved one, do not offer us that kind of flexibility. Because of the sometimes sudden change in circumstances, diligently preparing for your future–and your kin’s–is an endeavor not to be overlooked. Unfortunately, many Americans (nearly 70% as per a recent Caring.com poll from 2022) do not have a will or a living trust established.

Tragedy in 2020

Perhaps unsurprisingly then, the famous actor Chadwick Boseman, most well-known for his role in Marvel’s “Black Panther”, was included among the 70% of Americans in the nation without a will or trust in place.

After being diagnosed with stage three colon cancer in 2016, Boseman wed the musician Taylor Simone Ledward–entirely in private. After battling the cruel disease for multiple years, he passed away in the summer of 2020.

While Boseman’s decision to marry before his passing allowed for more of his assets to be distributed as per California’s right of survivorship (assuming Ledward was on title) and possibly outside of probate, not having a will in place complicated matters significantly.

Case in point, Boseman’s estate inventory was valued at a total of $3.8 million, as per a report from Radar Online, which had access to the final accounting report filed by his wife.

After tax costs of $51,000, a bond for probate in the amount of $900,000, and other fees, the assets remaining total approximately 2.3 million–a significantly smaller amount. Just by having a will in place, the expensive costs associated with probating his estate may have been avoided.

The necessity of having a will

Regrettably, issues associated with a loved one passing away intestate are not confined to merely costs. Drafting a will is not simply about avoiding legal fees. It is an altruistic act that avoids all-too-common issues with intestate affairs. Here are some of the most common issues friends and family members face after the death of an intestate loved one.

Friends and family are without direction

Without a will, those trusted to administer an estate may not be sure how to proceed, as the decedent’s wishes were not made known. If the deceased did not make their choice to not draft a will apparent, then their loved ones will spend countless hours trying to find it–without success. In addition to working through the grief of losing someone close to them, family and friends may try and remember important statements the deceased said to try and fulfill the wishes they may have had.

But, because the assets of the deceased fall under the intestate laws of the decedent’s domicile, trying to fulfill the decedent’s possible wishes can be legally complex.

Probate is costly and complex

One of the most complex and expensive parts of dealing with an intestate decedent is undoubtedly probate. This is the process whereby the court appoints an administrator to distribute the assets of the estate as per the intestate laws of the applicable state. Because there is no will in place, the court must be consulted for the decedent’s assets to be distributed at all.

In the case of Boseman’s assets, having to be through probate cost his estate nearly $900,000 in probate bond charges. Those are fees that could have been significantly reduced–or avoided altogether.

Interesting Note:

In the state of California where Boseman passed, intestate laws dictate that if someone passes away with surviving spouse and parents, all of the community property goes to the spouse, and the other assets are split evenly.

Conflict over asset distribution

In tandem with family members being unsure of your final wishes comes heated disagreement about who should be eligible for which assets. Although it may be well-worn, the idea that families face a falling out after the death of an intestate loved one is intuitive. Because of the intimate connection friends and family had with the deceased, it is easy to expect a gift or financial offering.

With many different parties all feeling the same way, with no tangible instrument to specify which intuitions are grounded, the past of most resistance can be alluring.

In conjunction with beneficiary disagreements comes the possibility of the intestate ruling being challenged, which only adds to the costs and stress associated with relational breakdowns.

Estate administration may still go as planned

It is worth noting that even though Boseman did not have a will, his 2.3 million dollar estate may be settled between his wife and his parents equally, as his wife is seeking approval from the court to do so.

This may seem to be a point against having a will in place, as one would expect Boseman’s wife and parents to know what the decedent would have wanted. However, Boseman’s case is likely the exception and not the norm.

Very little has been discussed as to how his two brothers have taken the news, given that California’s probate laws (specifically Section 6402) delineate that the surviving spouse and parents receive half of the non-communal assets. This effectively leaves them out of the picture, which cannot be easy in the slightest.

As with many things in life, the best way is typically the simplest. Rather than hope for the perfect contingency, planning to make sure your future is secure is the safest plan of action.

Let’s make sure your wishes are made known

Boseman’s passing was a shock that was felt by all, especially by his family. In addition to the emotional weight of losing a loved one, they had to navigate complex legal proceedings, deal with familial conflict, and pay a hefty probate bond. These are stressors that could have been effectively mitigated, simply by having a will in place.

With inflation consistently rising and affecting nearly everyone, it can feel like an unnecessary expense to draft a will that could cost thousands–if you use an attorney, that is. At ClearEstate, we pride ourselves on offering cost-effective solutions from estate experts. You don’t have to break the bank to ensure your assets will be dealt with how you want. Book a free consultation with us today.

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