Why Chadwick Boseman has brought estate planning to the fore

Star didn't leave a will but that's not unusual – and advisors should be alert to client opportunities

Why Chadwick Boseman has brought estate planning to the fore

The biggest movies stars are afforded a lifestyle many of us can only dream of. But they still face the same decisions – like when and how to make a will. It emerged yesterday that Chadwick Boseman, star of Black Panther and 42, had died from cancer without leaving a will.

According to reports, his wife filed documents in probate court asking to be named an administrator of the actor’s estate, which is listed as worth almost $1 million. Boseman is far from an unusual case. Neither Jimi Hendrix, Prince or Aretha Franklin left a will, for example, while this year a survey showed that only a third of people said they had a will, 24% less than in 2017.

Ben Hopf, founder and CEO of Atticus, a new estate settlement and inheritance platform which has just launched in Canada, told WP the reality is that gaining access to trusted advisors remains a big concern, even for movie stars. Atticus aims to democratize access to tools traditionally enjoyed by only the high-net-worth, bringing together the 17 professions involved in settling a loved one’s estate and directing them to the right people – including financial advisors – in the relevant jurisdiction.

Of course, few know Boseman’s exact circumstance – he was a private man – but his lack of will raises potential issues that could affect anyone. Without a will, intestacy laws kick in and the government has a prescribed method for distributing the assets. Generally, if you’re married, it goes to the spouse and to the kids, if there are some. If not, it then goes up to the parents and then over to brothers and sisters, and subsequently down to nieces, nephews, extenuating out to next of kin.

Hopf said: “[Without a will], a lot of times it'll say things like ‘everything else divided equally among my heirs’. What gets really hard is when you don't have liquid assets. Dollars are easy to divide, but how do you divide the sentimental aspects? Your mom's jewellery or the wedding band across multiple daughters?

“You get all these conversations around who is actually going to get what and, unfortunately, it can create a lot of divide across surviving family members, unless it's very, very specified as to who gets what. Wills help avoid some of that.

"Also, if you don't have a will, it's public record. Chadwick’s estate is now public record. Individuals can go into the court system and see what he passed away with, so it exposes the drama of the family conversations."

Atticus aims to take away these potential pain points by having the expertise to know what these arguments look like and how to resolve them. Hopf wants to demystify the process of life after death and what happens to the assets, empowering families through the platform to figure out the best way to transfer the estate.

This requires the holistic planning of having the right advisors at the table – from the legal side to the tax and financial. Even if you have a will, if you don’t retitle assets the right way, there may be problems. Also, an advisor may open clients minds to more efficient ways to transfer the wealth.

Hopf highlighted the example of rapper Nas, who put his then seven-year-old daughter’s name on his fifth album as an executive producer, meaning she would always get royalties from that LP.  He said: “What he’s effectively doing is saying, ‘I've already had four big records and I've got a tax issue – let me list my daughter, my heir, on this account, so that she gets the wealth and it's out of my name’.

“That’s the power advisors can have. Tools like Atticus can assist you and consolidate those conversations. It enables you to look at the assets and see that there might be a better way to structure it. Not everybody is not going to be a rapper but we have small- to mid-size businesses, and more entrepreneurship, online assets, and royalties from blogs. These are assets that have ongoing royalty checks that are now very common to the average person."

Ultimately, Atticus wants to connect all the specialities on a single platform so people from all walks of life – from a online entrepreneur to a blockbuster movie star – can get the best advice. For an advisor, it means everyone is on the same page and they can facilitate the right conversations.

Atticus allows the client to update their estate plan with photos and instructions as they go, elevating it from a point-in-time document to a transparent cloud-based tool that an advisor can monitor.

Hopf added: “So many times it’s a case of ‘go make a will’. But it’s much broader than that. What's the legacy? How do you find the right advisors around you for the expertise? What tools are in place to really help you facilitate these conversations? And ultimately, how do we as a culture demystify some of this because people don't talk about death.”