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Chadwick Boseman’s $2.3 Million Estate Settlement Is A Cautionary Tale About The Need For Proper Estate Planning

by | Sep 1, 2022 | Wills, Trusts And Estates |


Chadwick Boseman was an actor that rose to international fame by portraying the superhero Black Panther in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, beginning with the film Captain America: Civil War in 2016 and concluded with Avengers: Endgame in 2019.  Unfortunately, these performances were made while he struggled with colon cancer that eventually claimed his life on August 28, 2020 at age 43.  Mr. Boseman died without a will and his estate was probated as required under California law.

Mr. Boseman had been dating singer Taylor Simone Ledward since 2015 and they secretly married in 2020 only a few months prior to his death.  He had no children.  Since he died without a will, Mr. Boseman’s estate will be divided according to California’s intestate succession laws which determines who a decedent’s heirs are that are entitled to receive the estate.  Since California is a community property state, Ms. Ledward would first be entitled to receive all of the community property of the marriage, namely any income or property that was acquired between the date of the marriage to Mr. Boseman’s death.  However, since they were only married for a short period, Ms. Ledward’s community property distribution will be very small.  The rest of Mr. Boseman’s separate property, under California’s intestate succession law, is required to be divided 50% to the surviving spouse and 50% to the decedent’s parents since there are no descendants.  After court fees, reimbursements, funeral and burial costs, tax bills and other claims are paid, Mr. Boseman’s estate will have $2.3 million remaining to be divided 50% to Ms. Ledward and 50% to the surviving parents Leroy and Carolyn Boseman.

Whether or not this outcome is what Mr. Boseman intended for his estate is irrelevant since he failed to leave any last will or testament to direct where he wanted his assets to go.  Likewise, he could have moved his assets into a trust for distributions to be made according to his instructions, but that did not occur either.  As a result, California’s intestate succession laws determined who gets the balance of his estate no matter what his intentions were.

Every state has its own version of intestate succession laws to determine who receives a decedent’s assets in the absence of a will or trust.  These succession laws vary wildly from state to state and you can have completely different results in an estate distribution merely by crossing the boundary lines.  If Mr. Boseman was a resident of the state of Michigan, his intestate succession outcome would be different than it would have been in California.

If a Michigan decedent dies without a will and was married, the intestate share of the surviving spouse is as follows:

  • “The entire intestate estate if no descendant or parent of the decedent survives the decedent.”  MCL 700.2102(1)(a).
  • “The first $150,000.00 ($253,000.00 in 2022*), plus 1/2 of any balance of the intestate estate, if all of the decedent’s surviving descendants are also descendants of the surviving spouse and there is no other descendant of the surviving spouse who survives the decedent.”  MCL 700.2102(1)(b).
  • “The first $150,000.00 ($253,000.00 in 2022*), plus 3/4 of any balance of the intestate estate, if no descendant of the decedent survives the decedent, but a parent of the decedent survives the decedent.”  MCL 700.2102(1)(c).
  • “The first $150,000.00 ($253,000.00 in 2022*), plus 1/2 of any balance of the intestate estate, if all of the decedent’s surviving descendants are also descendants of the surviving spouse and the surviving spouse has 1 or more surviving descendants who are not descendants of the decedent.”  MCL 700.2102(1)(d).
  • “The first $150,000.00 ($253,000.00 in 2022*), plus 1/2 of any balance of the intestate estate, if 1 or more, but not all, of the decedent’s surviving descendants are not descendants of the surviving spouse.”  MCL 700.2102(1)(e).
  • “The first $100,000.00 ($169,000.00 in 2022*), plus 1/2 of any balance of the intestate estate, if none of the decedent’s surviving descendants are descendants of the surviving spouse.”  MCL 700.2102(1)(f).

*This amount may be adjusted by the Michigan Department of Treasury pursuant to MCL 700.2102(2).

“Any part of the intestate estate that does not pass to the decedent’s surviving spouse under section 2102, or the entire intestate estate if there is no surviving spouse, passes in the following order to the following individuals who survive the decedent”:

  • “The decedent’s descendants by representation.”  MCL 700.2103(a).
  • “If there is no surviving descendant, the decedent’s parents equally if both survive or to the surviving parent.”  MCL 700.2103(b).
  • “If there is no surviving descendant or parent, the descendants of the decedent’s parents or of either of them by representation.”  MCL 700.2103(c).
  • “If there is no surviving descendant, parent, or descendant of a parent, but the decedent is survived by 1 or more grandparents or descendants of grandparents, 1/2 of the estate passes to the decedent’s paternal grandparents equally if both survive, or to the surviving paternal grandparent, or to the descendants of the decedent’s paternal grandparents or either of them if both are deceased, the descendants taking by representation; and the other 1/2 passes to the decedent’s maternal relatives in the same manner. If there is no surviving grandparent or descendant of a grandparent on either the paternal or the maternal side, the entire estate passes to the decedent’s relatives on the other side in the same manner as the 1/2.”  MCL 700.2103(d).

“If there is no taker under the provisions of this article, the intestate estate passes to this state.”  MCL 700.2105.

In Michigan, the division of Mr. Boseman’s estate would have been different than the division in California.  If Chadwick Boseman died as a Michigan resident in 2022 without descendants, then his surviving spouse Taylor Simone Ledward would have received the first $253,000.00 of the estate plus three-quarters of the balance pursuant to MCL 700.2102(1)(c).  This means that, in Michigan, Ms. Ledward would have received $1,788.250.00 of the $2.3 million estate balance and Mr. Boseman’s parents would have shared $511,750.00 between them.  The surviving spouse would have done better under Michigan’s intestate succession laws than in California.

Intestate succession laws may not line up with your wishes regarding how you would like to see your property divided after death.  It doesn’t matter if you were just separated (but not divorced) from your wife, estranged from any of your children, or you don’t get along with your parents.  Unless you left a last will or testament or created other plans through jointly-held property or trusts, then the division of your property will be determined by intestate succession rules whether you like it or not.  A skilled estate planning lawyer can help you prepare all of the necessary documents to ensure that your final wishes are carried out.  Don’t leave the distribution of your estate to chance like Mr. Boseman did.

If you need estate planning, have questions about the probate process in Michigan, or need legal representation, then do not hesitate to contact the experienced attorneys at Kershaw, Vititoe & Jedinak PLC for assistance today.


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