July 28, 2022
Recent news out of this year’s Comic Con in San Diego has led me to consider some important lessons about the need to have an up to date will. Amongst the press conferences, announcements, and panel discussions at the convention, almost nothing was more highly anticipated and discussed than the teaser trailer for the movie Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, which gained over 25 million views on YouTube in just three days. While the preview got me excited about the movie, it also made me reflect on the passing of Chadwick Boseman, the actor who portrayed King T’Challa. Chadwick’s untimely death in 2020 at age 43 made international headlines as it came as a surprise to his fans and generated a lot of discussion around what happens when someone dies without a will (also known as dying “intestate”).
Although the Boseman family was able to reach an amicable agreement on the division of Chadwick’s assets without a will in place, the same cannot be said for many families who fight over the money and possessions of their deceased relatives. For example, Prince passed away in April of 2016 without a will, and his many siblings and half-siblings are still bitterly fighting in court over his inheritance. Additionally, with no will to appoint someone to oversee the estate, it was up to the courts in Minnesota to determine who would act in that role, thereby creating tension and delay.
If you die without a will in Maryland, state law determines who gets your money and other assets; the decision is out of your hands. As with Prince, not designating heirs through a will or trust can lead to a myriad of problems. First, a family member you are not close with may inherit from your estate, while the people you care about most could be left with nothing. Second, not having named heirs can divide families and lead to drawn out, expensive litigation. Lastly, the money that one does inherit may be subject to taxes that could have otherwise been reduced or avoided altogether if an estate plan was set up ahead of time.
Chadwick Boseman was fortunate to have a reasonable family and minimal tax burdens, but the same cannot be said for everyone who dies intestate. Another factor that made his estate easier to manage was that he did not leave behind any children. For many parents, a will or trust is used to provide for their children until the kids get older and can manage their own affairs. Some wills also designate who should act as guardian for the children of someone who has passed away. Without guardianship language to protect the children, a court could appoint someone who the parent would not have otherwise selected. Setting up a trust for one’s children is also a common practice in estate planning, but without a will, less money may be left for the child and could be used by a guardian for purposes beyond the child’s care. For a child with special needs, this could be particularly troublesome and impact the quality of care they receive for a disability.
Selecting heirs, dividing assets, planning for a funeral, minimizing tax burdens and making guardianship designations are just a few examples of the ways in which a will can protect your estate and your loved ones after your death. As we approach the two-year anniversary of his death, we remember Chadwick Boseman fondly as a brilliant character actor and an inspiration to many. If you want to honor Chadwick’s legacy, please consider donating to the Colon Cancer Foundation, the Chadwick Boseman Foundation or his alma mater, Howard University. “Wakanda Forever” X
About the Author: Jack Bloomberg is a comic book enthusiast and avid reader of all things Marvel, including Black Panther. In addition to helping people understand the ins and outs of Marvel movies, Jack helps people of all ages set up estate plans with wills, trusts and other documents.