The death of renowned figures or celebrities can often affect us deeply and remind us of our own mortality. It also serves as a reminder of just how important estate planning is to secure our assets after we are gone. Contrary to popular belief, estate planning is not exclusively for wealthy individuals and celebrities. Estate planning is for anyone with valuables that must be distributed at death.

What is Estate Planning?

Estate planning is the process by which an individual makes decisions during their lifetime regarding their money, property, and other valuable assets in the event they can no longer make decisions for themselves and/or when they pass away.

Last year, the death of prominent actor Chadwick Boseman and international rock superstar Eddie Van Halen served as two visible examples of why estate planning should be at the top of everyone’s priority list. While these two men are quite different, some similar and valuable lessons can be learned from their deaths regarding estate planning and protecting our loved ones when we pass away.

Black Panther’s Chadwick Boseman

After a four-year private battle with colon cancer, Chadwick Boseman unexpectedly passed away at forty-three, sending shockwaves through Hollywood and the world. Boseman kept his cancer a secret and continued to play numerous characters, including playing the heroic “Black Panther,” the Marvel Comics Avenger film franchise.

In the summer of 2018, Black Panther earned $1.3 billion worldwide, making Boseman an instant household celebrity. Additionally, even though he was sick, Boseman depicted the lives of Jackie Robinson, James Brown, and Thurgood Marshall between 2016 to 2020.

After his passing, it became clear that Boseman truly valued his privacy. Even when he was being teased and talked about because of his changing appearance, he still chose to keep his illness private, ignoring the ridicule. This is why it was quite surprising to learn that Boseman did not have a valid will when he died last year.

Notably, this became public knowledge when Taylor Simone Ledward, his widow, filed a case in surrogate’s court to open up a probate proceeding on behalf of Boseman’s estate. Anytime a person dies without a valid will, the decisions regarding their assets become a matter of public record, and the court ultimately decides what happens to their possessions and assets.

What is probate?

The legal process of distributing and dividing a deceased person’s assets after they die is known as probate. Keep in mind that the probate process also happens even when a person has a valid will. However, the critical difference is that when you have a will that clearly expresses your wishes, your wishes typically control what happens to your assets, if practical. If a person does not have a will or intestate, the applicable state’s default rules (called intestacy laws) control the distribution of the deceased assets.

For individuals and families who value privacy, the probate process can intrude on your privacy. Specifically, during probate, the court will receive information about the deceased assets, choose someone to oversee the assets’ distribution, and make the final decisions regarding the assets.

These matters may be sensitive to you and//or your family. Also, keep in mind that the court may appoint someone to oversee the distribution of your assets that you don’t want (or even like), which is why it’s important to have a legally valid will to express your wishes.

Keeping Your Assets Private

Individuals and families who prefer to keep their financial matters private can use a living trust. Specifically, a living trust is an estate planning tool that may be utilized to manage one’s property and money to benefit the third party. Anyone with assets to pass down to their heirs can use a living trust. In other words, living trusts are not exclusive to just wealthy individuals and families. By creating and using a trust to transfer your property, money, and other assets, your heirs can avoid the lengthy and costly probate process altogether.

Additionally, living trusts allow individuals to establish specific guidelines and restrictions to keep their assets away from the beneficiary’s creditors and predators. Overall, suppose you don’t plan properly. In that case, information regarding your assets and distribution becomes public information when you pass away. Moreover, you have no control over what happens to them.

Everything that Boseman owned at his death (i.e., Boseman’s estate) was valued at approximately $939,000, despite his estimated net worth being closer to $12 million. Most believe that a large portion of Boseman’s estate was held in private trusts and nonprofitable trusts, etc., but that information is not a matter of public record. If this is the case, that information could very well remain private forever due to the inherent nature of trusts.

The takeaway from Boseman’s situation is that with advanced estate planning, you can control how your final wishes and estate information is shared without the entire world knowing your assets.

Eddie Van Halen’s Life and Death

Breaking the hearts of fans everywhere, in October 2020, at 65 years old, Eddie Van Halen died after an extended battle with throat cancer. Van Halen secured his legacy in history as a rock-and-roll legend by being the founder, main songwriter, and lead guitarist for his band Van Halen. In 1974, Eddie joined forces with his brother Alex Van Halen and two of their friends to become one of the top-charting rock bands of the 70s and 80s. While the band experienced some tension over the years, Eddie Van Halen still became known as a distinguished guitarist.

Van Halen’s bad habits included heavy drinking and chain-smoking. He also experienced some turmoil in his romantic life. Specifically, in 1981, Van Halen married his first wife, Valerie Bertinelli. Nine years later, the couple had a son, Wolfgang. Unfortunately, their marriage did not last. The couple separated in 2002 and completely divorced in 2006. Van Halen married for a second time in 2012 to Janie Liszewski, who was also his public relations representative.

In 2000, Van Halen was diagnosed with cancer, which resulted in removing 1/3 of his tongue. He remained cancer-free for a few years, but eventually, the cancer returned. This time, the can was deadly. Specifically, it spread to his esophagus and throat, which eventually took his life. When Van Halen passed last year, it was estimated that his net worth was approximately $100 million. To date, little to no information has been revealed regarding his estate plans. However, most suspect that he had an estate plan.

Planning for Children and Spouses

Even if you’re not a celebrity like Van Halen was, with a significant amount of wealth, if you have children, been divorced, and/or remarry, then you will have some complex estate planning issues to deal with. Specifically, in your estate plan, you must consider any spousal support or alimony that may have been awarded as part of your divorce.

Also, if you have children from a previous marriage, you must account for them. This is especially true if you have additional children outside of your first marriage or if you remarry and have additional children. Although this was not an issue for Van Halen as he only had one son, who also worked with him, these are things individuals must consider when creating a comprehensive estate plan. In any event, Van Halen only had one child, which definitely played a role in how he presumably structured his estate plan. Hopefully, since Van Halen was fairly wealthy, he used trust instruments to transfer his assets and property to his intended beneficiaries.

Final Thoughts

One thing that is certain in life is that we will all pass away at one point or another. Therefore, to make your passing easier on your loved ones and family, you should schedule a free consultation with one of our experienced estate planning attorneys to discuss your options. Whether you’re interested in providing for your spouse and/or children when you pass away, or you just want to protect your privacy, our experienced attorneys are here to help you, no matter how big or small your assets.