The premature death of “Black Panther” star Chadwick Boseman, a young actor who had such a positive impact on so many lives, serves as a sad reminder of the importance of estate planning.


Shortly before his death, Boseman married his long time fiancé. Boseman’s marriage significantly affected the disposition of his estate. When a person dies without a will, as Boseman did, the assets they individually own, on which no beneficiary is designated, are inherited by the decedent’s “distributees.” The identity of one’s distributees depends on a number of factors. If the decedent is married with no children, the spouse is the sole distributee and will inherit everything. If the decedent is not married but has children, the children inherit it all. While many people believe that the assets of a decedent who is survived by both a spouse and children go solely to the spouse, that is incorrect. A spouse and surviving children of a decedent are all distributees and each shares in the estate, the spouse receiving the first $50,000 and half of the balance and the children sharing the remaining balance. If there is no spouse and no children, the surviving parent(s) are the distributees and receive the assets. If the decedent’s parents are not living, the decedent’s siblings receive equal shares except, if a sibling has died before the decedent, that share is divided among the children of the deceased sibling(s). Any minor child will receive his or her share, regardless of its size, on their eighteenth birthday.


Here, Boseman married before his death and had no children. His wife is the sole distributee and will inherit all of the assets he owned in his own name. But what if there were assets, such as joint accounts, that were not owned solely by Boseman? Jointly owned property usually passes, by operation of law, to the surviving owner. Or, what if there had been a beneficiary named on, for instance, a retirement account? Accounts with named beneficiaries such as IRAs, 401Ks and 403Bs, are not subject to the rules of intestacy. Those accounts pass to the person(s) named. The joint ownership/beneficiary designations would control the distribution of those accounts even if Boseman had a will.


The way these facts fit together exemplifies why it is so important to engage the help of an experienced estate planning attorney. When we meet with new clients, we do not limit our conversation to the manner in which the client wants the estate to be distributed. We inquire as to all of the assets. We ask how each asset is titled or owned, whether individually or jointly with another. We ask about beneficiary or “payable on death” designations. We ask to see copies of the beneficiary designations that are on file with the financial institutions to ensure that they reflect the client’s wishes. Clients are frequently shocked to learn that the financial institution’s records do not match their own recollection of what they had directed. This comprehensive review is what helps to ensure that our client’s wishes will be fulfilled.


So, how does this relate to Chadwick Boseman? At the end of his life, there were accounts that designated beneficiaries other than his wife. He also owned joint accounts, the survivors of which are not his wife. Having left his estate plan to chance, no one can say with certainty whether he had intended for these other persons to inherit or whether he was just not reminded to make the necessary changes.


Do not leave your estate plan to chance. Avoid the mistakes that Chadwick Boseman and so many others have inadvertently imposed on their loved ones. It is as simple as making an appointment for an estate planning consultation. Call us and let us help you get it right.