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The Chadwick Boseman Saga Continues... In Probate Court

While directors, producers, movie studios, and fans around the world debate on the future portrayal of our beloved black panther in upcoming marvel movies, several weeks ago the story broke that Chadwick Boseman’s estate had settled and the executor was seeking to make distributions and filed the final accounting of the estate. If you want more information and back story read this article.

Actor Chadwick Boseman died, without a will, after a long bout with cancer in 2020. He got married shortly before he died and didn’t have kids. His estate is being probated in California and I will say, two years is still a pretty short turnaround for an estate to settle. Smaller estates than his have been said to take 18 months or more and that is without any issues or points of contention. All it takes is one family member or creditor to feel like they have been wronged to stir up the pot and cause years of drama.

Case Inaccuracies:

Your Wealth Bestfriend®️ would like to mention that there was inaccurate information going around the internet that said the probate court was taking $900,000 in fees and this is false.

Photo purports that Bosemen's estate was subjected to a $900K probate court fee. However this is actually a surety bond and the estate is paying less than $3000 a year for the bond.
Incorrect information about Boseman's estate

There is a surety bond in place that will cover up to $900K in losses should the executor do something improper. However, the bond company will come after the executor for reimbursement. Think of this situation like insurance but with a penalty, it protects the estate and goes after the person in charge. If you have a proper estate plan you can decide to waive the need for a surety bond depending on who you leave in charge of your estate.

Source: Surety Bonds Direct

What is really going on?

According to the accounting submitted to the court (another reason I want you to have a trust…. Privacy), the estate was worth almost 4 million dollars after everything was inventoried yet at this point his wife is only getting half of $2.3 million after expenses and fees. Well aside from the fact the government wants their piece of the action (there is said to be a substantial business tax bill the executor is fighting) and a lot of the legal fees at least 50K if not more could have been avoided if Chadwick had a trust and a pour-over will. Even with a Trust, he would still need a will because #1. EVERYONE needs a will and #2 because Chadwick/his estate is still making money. Since Chadwick passed away, he has reportedly made over $200k and when you die with anything in your name it is going to make a stop at probate court first so we use a pour-over will to get everything to your trust). Chadwick Boseman’s Widow, Taylor Simone Ledward Boseman, and his parents will split the Actor’s Estate 50/50 but not before the estate pays probate document fees and costs, Lawyers, government taxing authorities, creditors, accountants, and anyone else involved in settling this estate. Chadwick also owned a business that his executor will have to manage and settle.

California Intestate Succession Laws: Why is his wife only getting a 50%?

California follows community property law which to simplify means “yours, mine, and ours” matters a lot after you marry someone. Because Chadwick hadn’t been married long before he passed away there likely wasn’t much community property in the estate. Any community property would go to his wife. Any separate property would pass to his living blood relatives based on an order defined in the California Probate Code. In this case his living parents would receive all his separate property which could potentially mean his spouse wouldn’t receive anything. I need all my married couples to pay attention to this!

The only way to avoid this default rule would be to specify in your will or trust who you want to receive your separate property. Without a legally enforceable writing from you, the government gets to decide and each state varies. Here, because Chadwick didn’t have children, his separate property would go to his living parents. Community property goes to his spouse Taylor. Taylor and Chadwick's parents likely agreed to just split everything 50% to simplify which is a beautiful and amicable choice. This is the exception and not the rule, more often families do not come together when death and money are involved (no matter how much or little assets are involved).

Bestie, I have a question for you…

Would you pay $5k - 10K now to save your family $100,000 in court/legal/tax fees in the future?

I know I would. Remember it is cheaper to get your life together now, it is always more expensive later. I know you understand the concept because INFLATION IS KILLER RIGHT NOW. I wish I would have gone on all my trips so I could sit down with my memories this summer LOL.

What are our takeaways?

  1. Everything is more expensive, especially without a plan. Did you notice, Chadwick's estate bounced from almost $4 million to $2.3 million? Without an estate plan, your family pays for expenses upfront then has to ask the estate/court for reimbursement. For example, Chadwick's wife spent $20k on his funeral alone and another $7k for the crypt (and that's not excessive… a few cemeteries in Los Angeles told me just a burial plot in the ground would be 19K and even more to open and close it.) Dying is expensive but let's not forget the people you leave behind now have your bills and theirs to think about. Having a plan in place HELPS tremendously. It's about leaving behind peace of mind.

  2. Avoid probate/minimize the need for probate as much as can, documents can cost $50-$400 per doc in filing fees and all you are doing is giving TMZ and your creditors access to all your financial details. This is a no-no because we like to move in silence, outside of the public eye, and transfer our wealth efficiently.

  3. You need to work with an attorney in your state to create an estate plan. Estate planning deals with several different areas of the law that most form will/do-it-yourself companies will not help you with. Chadwick’s case alone deals with community property/separate property, tax law, probate code, and the state laws of intestacy. Are you prepared to interpret all those laws yourself? Here is a hint, the answer is no (even if you have a law degree. Unless you are a practicing estate planning attorney don’t try this at home Bestie!).

If you need help finding an estate planning attorney here is an article about that.

Jala Eaton known as Your Wealth Bestfriend® is a seasoned personal finance writer as well as an Attorney and award-winning Certified Trust & Fiduciary Advisor (CTFA). When she is not running her businesses, teaching, or writing she enjoys dance parties in the kitchen with her daughter. Her work has appeared on, Business Insider, Experian, Real Simple, The Skimm, Yahoo News, and others.

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