A Tale of Two Celebrities & the Importance of Estate Planning
Estate planning of celebrities

A Tale of Two Celebrities: Chadwick Boseman and Eddie Van Halen

The death of iconic celebrities can sometimes impact us deeply because it reminds us of our shared humanity. With celebrities passing, we realize that death is an equalizer. It also reminds us of the importance of estate planning to protect a person’s money and property. Estate planning is not reserved for those with large amounts of wealth or personalities. Death challenge all of us regardless of our relative fame or obscurity.

Estate planning is the process of making decisions about what happens to you, your money, and your property when you pass away or can no longer make decisions for yourself. This year, the deaths of two significant celebrities —the international rock superstar Eddie Van Halen and the global acting phenomenon Chadwick Boseman—provide examples of key considerations in this process. In some ways, these men could not be any more different;  they serve as a lesson that all should have an estate plan in place to protect the ones we love.

The Legacy of Black Panther’s Chadwick Boseman

Chadwick Boseman died at the age of 43 after a 4-year battle with colon cancer. Despite receiving his cancer diagnosis in 2016, Boseman kept his cancer a secret and continued to play numerous characters, including the heroic figure Black Panther in the Marvel Comics Avenger film franchise. In the summer of 2018, Black Panther grossed an estimated $1.3 billion worldwide and made Boseman a well-known name. In addition to this iconic role, he portrays the lives of African-American celebrities like Jackie Robinson and James Brown. His death shocks both Hollywood and the world. The actor surprisingly had remained secretive regarding his illness.

It became apparent after his death that Chadwick Boseman valued privacy. Boseman had been ridiculed due to the changes in this appearance as he battles cancer. He chose not to disclose his illness. This shows that Boseman preferred to keep matters private. As a result, it was surprising to discover that Boseman did not have a will in place at his death. Taylor Simone Ledward, his widow, filed to open up probate on behalf of his estate. When someone dies without a will, decisions about the deceased’s possessions become a matter for a court of law to decide.

Probate is the process of dividing and distributing someone’s property and money.  Probate is also applicable to people who have wills. However, if you die with a will in place, your wishes govern to the extent possible. Without a will, the default rules of the particular state apply (called intestacy laws). For people who value privacy, the entire probate process can be very unwanted. It involves the court receiving information about everything you own, choosing someone to manage the distribution process, and making decisions about items and money that may be sensitive to you and your loved ones.

Keeping Your Property and Accounts Hidden from the Public Eye

As part of estate planning, individuals or celebrities who value privacy can take advantage of the benefits of a living trust. Trust is a legal planning tool used to help manage an individual’s money and property for the benefit of a third party. One landmark trait of a trust is its ability to avoid probate. If you value privacy, you may want to consider using a trust to transfer your property and accounts. In addition to providing privacy, trusts allow individuals who establish the trust to implement specific guidelines and restrictions that keep their money and possessions away from a beneficiary’s potential creditors or predators. In the absence of proper planning, information regarding what someone owns becomes public, and the deceased person has no input regarding how these items are distributed.

Everything Boseman’s owned at his death was valued at $939,000. Some people suspect that a large portion of Boseman’s estate is in nonprobatable accounts and private trusts. If it is true, that information could remain private due to how trusts work. The lesson to learn from Boseman’s case is that through proper planning, you can exercise control over how your final wishes are communicated and shared without the entire world knowing about it.

Eddie Van Halen’s Colossal Impact and Life

In October 2020, news of Eddie Van Halen’s death at the age of sixty-five after a long battle with throat cancer broke the hearts of fans and celebrities around the world. Van Halen established himself as a rock-and-roll legend as the founder, primary songwriter, and lead guitarist for the rock band Van Halen. In 1974, Eddie, his brother Alex Van Halen and two others teamed up as rock bands of 1970s and 1980s. Over the years, the band experienced massive success, coupled with notable tensions. Through it all,  Van Halen was known for incredible guitar solos that placed him in a league of his own.

Van Halen’s vices included significant drinking and chain-smoking. He also experienced numerous ups and downs in his romantic life. In 1981, he married his first wife, Valerie Bertinelli, and in 1990, the couple had a son, Wolfgang. Their marriage didn’t last, however, with a separation beginning in 2002 that eventually resulted in their ultimate divorce in 2006. Van Halen married once more in 2012 to his public relations representative at the time, Janie Liszewski.

Van Halen was first diagnosed with cancer in 2000. As a result of the diagnosis, his tongue was removed. He was reportedly cancer-free for a few years, but it was eventually disclosed that the cancer had returned. It eventually spread to his throat and esophagus and ultimately took his life. Van Halen’s net worth was estimated to be around $100 million at the time of his passing. So far, there is little to no information available regarding his estate planning; the Estate plan had in place as suspected.

Planning for Spouses and Children

For those who do not have Van Halen’s superstardom but have shared experiences as far as divorce, children, and remarriage, there are some estate planning issues to consider. First, estate planning should account for any alimony (spousal support) that may have been put in place at the time of a divorce. The terms of the divorce and the conclusions regarding property ownership may significantly impact how one plans to distribute his or her money and property.

Additional considerations regarding children from that union should be addressed. This becomes even more important if more children are brought into the picture via a second marriage. Even though Van Halen’s family situation does not require that analysis, there is another factor that likely impacted his planning: his only son, Wolfgang Van Halen. He hoped to use trust to facilitate easy transfer of property to his recipients because of assets in the estate.

What You Can Do

The great and small among us will eventually pass away. To help you make things easier for your loved ones and to ensure peace of mind, please call The KC Estate Planner and schedule a consultation today.  Estate planning is necessary for celebrities protecting assets or your child or spouse’s care, and we are here to help.