After fighting a long battle with colon cancer, at the young age of 43, famed actor Chadwick Bozeman, of Marvel‘s Black Panther movie, died without a Will in place in 2020. The late actor’s wife petitioned a California Probate Court to be the executor of his estate.

When a person dies without a Will and they have assets in California totaling more than $184,500 (2022) standing in their name only and without a beneficiary named, those assets go through a court process called probate. Probate is the legal process of administering someone’s assets after death to ensure that all of their debts and final expenses have been paid and that the remaining assets are transferred to the legally entitled heirs. A probate case in California can be expensive, time-consuming and stressful for the executor appointed by the Court.

In Chadwick Boseman‘s case, he had nearly $1 million of assets that were not held in the name of a trust or that named a designated beneficiary. Some common types of assets that can be snared in a probate action include real estate, bank accounts, business interests, brokerage accounts, as well as personal property. 

When a person doesn’t have a Will but has assets that need to go through the probate process, we call that an intestate probate. What that means is that the probate statute in the state where the probate action is being heard controls where the property goes.

In Chadwick‘s case, the nearly $1 million of assets going through the probate isn’t necessarily the makeup of his entire estate. Some types of accounts such as life insurance, IRAs and 401(k)s typically pass to individuals named as beneficiaries without having to go through a court proceeding as long as the custodian has on file a beneficiary designation form previously filled out by the owner of the asset.

Also, it is possible that Chadwick had a revocable trust but either he did not have a Will in place to accompany his trust or his original Will was lost. To open up a probate with a Will, you need to present the court with an original Will document that was witnessed by two witnesses in California. In California, even for modest sized estates, the best practice is to have a revocable living trust and an accompanying Pour Over Will that names your revocable trust as the beneficiary of any potential probate assets.

The added expense to Chadwick’s estate is likely around $50,000 because of this probate in addition to the amount of time it takes to get through the court process (15-24 months is not uncommon in an uncontested probate case these days in California). 

To ensure that your estate plan is current and up-to-date, avoid a costly probate and ensure your family is properly protected, we invite you to contact us at (760) 448-2220 to schedule a meeting with one of our attorneys.

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