When a person dies with no estate plan in place, the whole ordeal can definitely be messy. Most especially if that person happens to be a public figure. In this episode, we dive deep into one celebrity case that falls under this dilemma. We discuss the messy estate left by deceased actor Chadwick Boseman. When the late Black Panther actor passed away with no Will and Trust, it left his 3.8 million net worth and estate under settlement issues. What would have been an ideal situation? What lessons can we learn from this? Tune in to find out!
Listen to the podcast here
Death Without An Estate Plan: The Chadwick Boseman Case
Welcome back to the show with Norton Basu. That’s Zakiya Norton and Somita Basu founding Partners. I’m Annie Tyler, Director of Marketing and Business Development. That’s not the exciting side. The exciting side is when we talk about interesting celebrity cases. These always get a lot of attention because we love to gossip and have a little window into people’s lives. When unfortunately they die with no estate plan in place, what happens? Everything becomes public.
With Wakanda Forever coming up, the part of the Black Panther franchise, that might be one we want to talk about Chadwick Boseman because he passed away worth somewhere around $3.8 million or $4 million, maybe that continues to grow after he’s gone. We can talk about that part. I believe he had gotten married and then, unfortunately, there was a sudden death. I don’t know much about these kinds of things.
She admitted to me she has not seen the original Black Panther.
Thank you for outing me.
All we do is out you on the show. She had not seen it. I was trying to remember us going to that theater.
We went with our friend, Jerelyn, at that time too. Shout-out to Jerelyn. We took the kids. It was a moment for the culture big time.
For those of you who are not fan people, we’re very inclusive here if you are not into the whole Marvel superhero cinematic universe, Black Panther. For those people who were into comics, Black Panther was well known to them. For the rest of us, we did not know much about Black Panther until the movies were made, and Chadwick Boseman appeared in some of the Avengers movies that came out before Black Panther.
They finally made a movie that was just about Black Panther. It shows how he became a Black Panther and the culture of Wakanda. That movie blew everybody’s mind. We did cry. It was unbelievably amazing. My sons have seen that movie at least ten times. My younger son only did the Wakanda salute for a good year. That was the only way to greet me.
He’s into the ground. He resuscitated it, brought it back to life, and into the ground again. We did that for a year.
It was a big deal for the culture.
You had a black superhero and the story was phenomenally told.
Wakanda is so scientifically advanced and this whole idea of community is. It was our first big introduction to Chadwick Boseman.
He’d been in a lot of stuff but nothing was as big as this. This put him on the map. Chadwick Boseman is a phenomenally talented actor. He’s played Thurgood Marshall and Jackie Robinson.
That was a good movie, 42.
He’s done some amazing roles before Black Panther. With a phenomenal screen presence, you couldn’t stop watching him. I’ve seen some movies that were not that great, but I watched them because his screen presence was great.
That was not my favorite.
We love you, Chadwick but that was a bad movie.
Two Snaps Up.
It doesn’t get the living color. I hated it.
He was phenomenal and an amazing actor.
He was a real talent.
Such a loss. From all reports, he’s a wonderful person to work with.
Battling this thing that nobody even knew about. I’m talking to all of you who were making fun of him when he was losing all that weight. Everybody was talking about him and that was not good. We didn’t even know that he was fighting this battle all on his own in private and still showing up. He’s crushing it. He had already been diagnosed when he was shooting Black Panther. Even Ryan Coogler didn’t know. This is the gossip that I read.
#DisabilityRights in this country though. This is why people can’t share these things.
He was doing all of this weight training while he was going through chemo or treatment. That’s what I read.
He was a real superhero. Nobody knew. When he passed away, it was a real shock for those of us who were in the general public who follow his career.
Unfortunately, we are the general public in this scenario.
I thought we were the VIP. Somehow we are not related. I don’t know how we’re not related. He died very suddenly. In the new movie Wakanda Forever, everybody is waiting to see what’s going to happen.
We got our tickets. I hope you guys got your tickets already.
Everybody is wondering who’s going to be the next Black Panther. They’re keeping that under tight.
How do they manage that?
I don’t know but apparently, the cast has said however they did it, nobody is offended. They feel good about whatever they decided to do to fill that role. They do acknowledge that he died in the movie.
We’re going to be crying again like Paul Walker on watching the Fast & Furious movie. We’re sobbing like teenage girls.
We cried in that movie, especially at the end.
We love it so much but for Chad, that’s genuine.
You guys are such smart and tough business ladies who cry at movies.
Fast & Furious movies don’t even have a plot but I love them so much.
You throw down every day at a law firm but you’re crying.
We’re crying at Fast & Furious.
It’s utterly ridiculous but it was very touching though.
The song came on and we were done.
It’s such a great movie.
Unfortunately, with the Chadwick Boseman situation, he’s not the first celebrity to die like that. There’s Prince, Whitney Houston, and Aretha Franklin.
Plug in for our episode on Prince.
The Prince episode was great. Speaking of Paul Walker, Paul Walker is another person who went through the probate as well.
Also, Ann Hayes. Some of us know who that is. It never stops. Tell us some of the pitfalls. If I were worth $3.8 million or something close, what would my loved ones be facing that I am unfortunately gone?
First and foremost, the fact that we know all of this is part of the problem. Probate is public. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you did. You could be the most famous person on the planet but if you did not plan appropriately, TMZ will be sitting in court because we’ve had that experience too, where they will wait outside of court to ask a question.
Chadwick Boseman Estate: Probate is public. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you did.
They came up and tried to talk to us. We were like, “Could you not, please?”
One of the problems is that we know that his net worth at the time of death was roughly $3.8 million because that was what was filed on the probate case in Los Angeles County by his wife. Every document is available to us.
We see all the receipts for the funeral cost and venue. I can look at it all and see exactly how much everything costs, where it was and who catered to it. I know that they didn’t have toilets at the venue. That’s ridiculous.
Why do I have access to that much information? We know what assets he had, where they were held, and what stocks he had.
We know everything.
It seems a little weird that we know all this. Your privacy is obliterated when you’re in probate.
For the general public, which unfortunately does include us, no one cares.
The people who know us would care.
However, nobody else cares but when you’re a celebrity, guess who cares? Everyone and also TMZ. They’re always first on the scene. They are going to put all of your business on the front page. It’s out in the streets. Everyone knows what’s going on.
When you’re a celebrity, made one that’s not ideal for any of us but especially for them. You’re putting your beneficiaries at risk because when you’re dealing with celebrities, you’re dealing with notoriety, fame and usually high-level assets. You got people who can see what’s what and start trying to have conversations with these people.
It happens in the cases that we’re on.
We’re not dealing with these kinds of issues but they start making phone calls and reaching out to those beneficiaries. They don’t have great motives for anything like, “Let’s do an advanced inheritance. How about selling that house? How about you let me do it?” It’s all that stuff. You’re going to get spammed. Spam is going to be all the calls that you get on your phone. Probate will put you right front and center so the spotlight is on you. The kimono is fully open.
One of the things that happen, especially in this situation, particularly with Chadwick Boseman, was there were a lot of headlines about the wife fighting with the parents. There’s nothing in the records for us to infer that that was the case. I saw a headline or an article saying, “His wife had to come to a settlement with the parents.” I don’t think necessarily that’s true because based on what we can see in the court filings, the majority of his income was earned before he got married.
He got married very shortly before he died. It was all earned while he was single so those are counted as separate property. When you die without children but you’re married, your separate property gets split between your spouse and either your parents or your siblings if you don’t have parents. He had parents so his wife inherited half of his estate and his parents inherited the other half. That’s the law.
Chadwick Boseman Estate: When you die without children, but you’re married, then your separate property gets split between your spouse and either your parents or your siblings.
They were together for a while. They just didn’t get married. Being together in California does not mean that you have any rights to anything. Shout-out to the people who come to us and say, “We’ve been together for eighteen years. Aren’t we common law married?” That is not a thing in California. You need to take that to Alabama or somewhere else.
What’s more about the seats in the back? Common law marriage is not a thing in California.
If you think you’ve been together for eighteen years so you’re going to be entitled to something, I have some terrible news for you. You will not in the absence of estate planning documents because you’re not married at all. You don’t get any of those privileges that spouses get because you’re not a spouse. You’re not common law married. California doesn’t have that.
When your partner dies and you come to us and said, “He said he was going to take care of me and I’d be taken care of but we were never married. Everybody thought we were married but were not legally married,” if he doesn’t have an estate plan that you have seen that names you as the beneficiary or the trustee, that was not signed and notarized and we have seen that too.
That means that he did not take care of you or she did not take care of you. Let’s make sure that that is a thing. In this particular case with Chadwick Boseman’s estate, he didn’t get married until shortly before he died. At that point, he knew that his cancer had gotten pretty bad. He could have done an estate plan when he first got together with his wife and provided for her. She would’ve inherited more.
We have signed safe planning documents in the hospital with people back before Covid.
That’s not a thing in 2022. As long as mentally you still have the capacity, then we’re good to go. Not that you should wait until then. With the kind of cancer he had, mentally he was probably still okay. He could have done these documents up until probably close to the day that he passed.
There was a way around he didn’t.
Hopefully, all the other celebrities out there are reading this episode so we will never do a celebrity death episode again but I’m afraid that that may not be the case. Unfortunately, it’s not the case for a lot of us who are members of the general public. You have some good horror stories. We are having this conversation right before Halloween 2022. We’ve made light of this and been able to look at it in a humorous light but there is a not-so-fun process if I fail to do a living trust or even if I do a will. I know that’s a myth. A lot of people think I did a will. It’s all taken care of. Tell me a little bit about that.
In California, if you have a will, you are guaranteeing that you will go through probate. If you also don’t have anything, you’ll go through probate. The only way you avoid it is by having a trust. Let’s clear that up. If you have a will, you are guaranteeing probate. You don’t have anything else. You’re directing the court at how you want everything to be distributed but it still has to go through court. We haven’t talked about what that process is like.
I’ll give you the headline that’s painful and expensive. It’s not something you want to go through. The state, court and lawyers make a lot of money. If you want that to happen, then go through probate by all means. If you want to make this process easy for your family to take over your assets and for them to inherit the most amount of money from your state, then you got to plan.
Chadwick Boseman Estate: If you want to make this process easy for your family to take over your assets and inherit the most amount of money from your state, then you have to plan.
Talk about the timelines for probate. COVID did a real number on the courts in the state of California. We weren’t starting from a great place though. Two things happened at the same time. One is there was a shutdown in many courts for almost 2 to 3 months before they got back on their feet. LA County is an outlier here. They were down for a couple of weeks and back at it. They’re the biggest county court system in the state of California. They figured it out before everybody else did and so did the Valley.
Two things happened at the same time. COVID shut everything down, which pushed all dates out and delayed everything that was already in process. At the same time, budget cuts hit. They were not COVID-related budget cuts. They were budget cuts that were slated to happen. You had five clerks processing documents and went down to two. Therefore, probate is a process that takes a minimum of 18 to 24 months to get through the court system if you have any complexity in your case. That is assuming nobody is fighting.
If everybody is fighting, you’re looking at 4, 5 to 6 years because everybody’s going to file motions. There are going to be hearings. There might be a trial. There’s going to be mediation. Every status hearing is going to either set another status hearing date or get everything pushed out. It’s a very slow, painful process. The other thing that people don’t understand is that probate fees are set by law. There is a law that has a calculation of how much an attorney can charge for probate. While attorneys do get paid at the end, you should understand that at the end of the day, the amount that you’re paying in probate fees is going to be in the neighborhood of between 3.5% to 5% of the estate, depending on the size of the estate.
We’re talking fair market value. Here in California, the fees get outrageous pretty quickly because the cost of real estate is what it is. If you own two sticks of grass and a vacant lot, it’s probably a $1 million piece of land. You can imagine that the fees go up real quick and they don’t care if there’s a mortgage. We have a case like that. You bought the property for $3 million and you are mortgaged at $2 point something million. Guess what? The fees are getting calculated at $3 million. It’s probably worth more from whenever you bought it because it’s California. The fees are insane.
That is a calculation you do not want to become familiar with. If you have a trust, your trust administration cost is between 1% to 1.5%, assuming you’re not going with Wells Fargo or some big bank, which is going to charge you maybe twice that. If you are in general trust administration, that process and the legal fees involved, it’s way less. For someone like me who doesn’t particularly like numbers, even though I do get them, that makes complete sense. 3.5% to 5% or 1% to 1.5%. It’s a no-brainer.
There’s a lot of paperwork and a lot of things that the court can have oversight over. What if you can’t be bonded? What if your spouse, your partner, your sister, brother, mother or whomever it is that’s going to court is unable to be bonded? Everything has another layer of oversight and another layer of court involvement so it becomes very painful and bureaucratic very quickly.
That’s the thing to understand. I’m pretty sure we’ve scared you already but for everything in probate, the court has to sign off on it, which in practical terms means you have to get on the court calendar. Something that most people don’t know, for the longest amount of time in most of the counties in the Bay Area, maybe San Francisco excluded, there was one probate judge. Our counties are big here like Santa Clara, Alameda, and San Mateo. There’s one judge that everyone is trying to fight to get on that calendar. You file something and may not get it on their calendar for four months from when you filed it. Now, there are more judges, but I don’t know that we’re feeling too much of an impact on the calendar side. It’s still pretty backlogged. We can’t catch up.
One of the things as an example for the Chadwick Boseman probate is that the actual paperwork to close out the case and distribute the assets was probably filed sometime in February or March of 2022 but the actual order, which is the paperwork that you need from the court to move the assets did not come out from the court until October 4th, 2022. Think about that. The whole year is gone almost. Everything is frozen.
That’s the thing about probate. Nobody has authority until the court signs what’s called an order for whatever it is that you’re trying to do. You’re going to get different orders for different things and every time, you have to get on the calendar. The other thing is you can’t do any of them. For those four months where we’re trying to get in front of the judge, you guys can’t do anything. There are bills and credit cards that still have to get paid. There’s probably a mortgage that still has to get paid. I’ll tell you this, the banks will foreclose right on in the middle of our probate. They do not care.
Most families don’t have the resources to go to court to stop foreclosure. Depending on who the mortgage was through, sometimes if you tell them that the borrower has passed away, they will provide you time and some lenders will not.
They don’t care. They’re like, “That’s great. Anyways, the foreclosure is happening in a week.” That is one of the real downsides of having to go through probate.
You’re at the mercy.
Financial institutions and the government.
That’s not a good place to be in.
Chadwick Boseman Estate: Avoid going through probate if you can. You’re at the mercy of financial institutions and the government. That’s just not a good place to be.
That’s exactly what I want running my life, finances. They do not have your best interests at first.
They don’t care about your family. Honestly, the court doesn’t care that much either because without filing something in court, the court is not going to take any action. The court is not proactively going to do anything. These are all the downsides. Hopefully, Chadwick Boseman’s wife and family were okay as they went through this process but we know way too much about what happened, with his family, funeral, estate and assets. It’s a little sad quite frankly. Don’t let this happen to you. Plan accordingly.
It’s always sad when someone passes away. If you don’t have to go through a protracted probate process, which reminds you every day for a minimum of a couple of years in Santa Clara County, for example, if you could wrap up a trust, go see a lawyer, be in control, and essentially take care of it yourself, you would think that makes it a lot easier to have the time and space to grieve.
We won’t be sitting here talking about your whole business in a show your entire life.
Nor with the rest of my friends and enemies who know my inheritance. Thank you for letting us know about that. Thank you for joining us. We look forward to chatting with you next time.