If there were ever a list of cardinal sins in the world of estate planning, dying intestate would be at the top. To die intestate is to pass away with no legal will in place. Those who make this oversight subject their loved ones to the pains of the probate court and the many potential conflicts leaving no clear wishes can provoke. When a person dies intestate the distribution of their assets is determined by state intestacy laws which, naturally, take no consideration of your family’s unique needs. The sad truth is, this can happen to anyone that is simply not prepared. It doesn’t matter how much or how little their estate is worth, take it for Chadwick Boseman, literally a real-life superhero, who simply did not have his affairs in order before his untimely death. As demonstrated by these celebrity examples described below, things can get messy without an estate plan in order.
Nearly five years after his tragic death, Prince is now famous not only for his musical genius but for bringing about one of the most trying probate cases in Minnesota history. Prince, after all, left no instructions for how to divide his estimated $300 million estate, leading to a stream of claims from family members, loved ones, and purported family members which took the courts years to navigate.
After two years, Prince’s sister and his five half-siblings were named the rightful heirs to the estate and yet even then the siblings have continued to argue over the artist’s immense fortune. Court documents show $45 million has been spent on administrative fees and an additional $10 million on legal fees. In addition, Prince’s life’s work is subject to a 40% tax owed to the federal government and 16% tax owed to Minnesota.
Nearly all of this could have been avoided had Prince implemented an estate plan.
Another prodigious talent lost too soon, Steve McNair, who was murdered by an extra-marital romantic partner, also passed without leaving so much as a will. While the extraordinary (and heartbreaking) circumstances of his death perhaps explain why he had taken no steps to protect his wealth, they also signal the importance of not delaying estate planning.
Because McNair died intestate, his assets were frozen and his widow, Mechelle McNair, was forced to petition a judge to free up a portion to care for their children (as well as two others from previous relationships). His mother, Lucille, was also forced to vacate a home he had bought for her because it had not been placed in her name and she was unable to pay the rent required by the estate’s court-appointed executor.
As with the case of Prince, an estate plan would have prevented all of this.
Black Panther star and real-life superhero Chadwick Boseman is another on the long list of celebrities who died without a will. This said, the actor’s case is distinguished by the fact that it appears he did file some estate planning documents; he just didn’t finish the job. As a result, the distribution of Boseman’s assets was left to the discretion of the California probate court.
Public records show that Boseman’s estate valued at approximately $939,000, which several sources have pointed out is far less than what he would have earned from his many starring roles in hit films. One explanation for this discrepancy is that the majority of his wealth passed through private trusts; however, but this begs the question of why no will was present when one is almost always drafted alongside a trust. What’s more, if the actor had wished his assets to be handled outside of probate, it is difficult to imagine why he would have left nearly $1 million unaccounted for.
Unfortunately, because Boseman never completed his estate planning, we will never know the answers to these questions and, more importantly, we will never know if the star’s estate was distributed according to his wishes.
Though everyone appearing in this article is a celebrity, it is important to know that an estate plan is not only for the rich and famous but for anyone wishing to avoid unnecessary expenses and maintain control of their assets. The sooner you act on implementing such a plan, the better, too, as illustrated by the examples above.
Contact Attorney James M. Miskell