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Dying without a will complicates and confuses things for your loved ones - even when you're famous.

Dying without a will complicates and confuses things for your loved ones - even when you're famous.

December 04, 2020

Chadwick Boseman, best known for his starring role in the blockbuster Marvel action movie Black Panther, died recently after a long battle with cancer. With his worldwide notoriety and prominent acting came the accumulation of wealth. Knowing for years about his terminal condition and watching his net worth grow, it came as a surprise that he died without a will, also known as "intestate." Due to this considerable gap in estate planning, Mr. Boseman's wife was forced to go through probate (a process in which the validity of a will is established), something no one should have to do when grieving for a loved one. 

Estate planning tools exist for everyone to take advantage of. When your earnings increase and your net worth grows, planning the transfer of assets after death should be considered an obligation, not an option. When he died, Mr. Boseman had close to $1,000,000 that was listed in probate court documents. His wife was forced into public court proceedings for the unprotected monies that were subject to probate. He likely had more substantial assets pass through private trusts, especially knowing his terminal condition. Which then begs the question, why was a will not created alongside the trusts? It's hard to play detective and speculate, but we can learn from his lack of preparation. 

It goes without saying that we all want our assets protected and passed down according to our wishes. The more wealth accumulation one has, the more your family stands to lose if there is not a finalized estate plan in place. Unfortunately, Mr. Boseman is hardly alone in making this mistake. Another notable case of dying intestate was the passing of the famous musician Prince, whose estate remained unsettled as of 2019, three years after his death. Having your intentions carried out through an official will or trust and working with an advisor to craft an estate plan is something we all must do regardless of our circumstances or status in life. 

Leaving your final wishes in the hands of the courts isn't something anyone wants. Without proper financial and estate planning, divisions between family members and complicated court proceedings can occur, impacting the equitable transfer of assets. This situation will likely lead to a financial loss for everyone involved and a huge emotional toll. 

In Mr. Boseman's case, the court will undoubtedly name his spouse as an administrator to his estate and award her the sum of his assets in question. But the lengthy process of claiming those assets could have been bypassed altogether. Removing that burden for your loved ones can be avoided.

Regardless of your status in life, not planning for your eventual death can harm your legacy. It's hard to imagine someone "rich and famous" has a blind spot in their estate plan, and yet we still see it happening. 

Working with an advisor to establish a will and power of attorney should be done at an early age regardless of health. Choosing to do so is a selfless act which benefits your loved ones (beneficiaries) and leaves your legacy intact. Numerous uncertainties in life are out of our control, don't make estate planning one of them. 

This piece is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information on the subjects covered. It is not, however, intended to provide specific legal, tax, or other professional advice. For specific professional assistance, the services of an appropriate professional should be sought.