WANTAGH, NY-AUG 14: Eddie Van Halen of Van Halen performs onstage at Jones Beach Theater on August 1

Eddie Van Halen performs onstage at Jones Beach Theater in 2015. 

The unique estate planning experiences of legends can be valuable lessons for us:  First, Chadwick Boseman, who brought the Black Panther to the big screen among other notable works, had no estate planWalt Disney, who made us smile in so many ways from creating Mickey Mouse, and his other productions to the amazing theme parks, opted for a will-based plan.  And, last but certainly not least, most experts believe that rock legend Eddie Van Halen, who changed rock-and-roll forever, with his 1970s' American rock band Van Halen, had a trust-based plan.

These three different paths provide windows to understand the benefits and drawbacks of three types of celebrity estate planning, the associated legal documents, and issues raised in the estate planning process:

  • Boseman – Died without a will and without an estate plan 
  • Disney – Died with will-based estate plan 
  • Van Halen – Likely died with a trust estate plan 

We can learn a lot about estate planning by analyzing each of the foregoing estate planning options and by comparing the unique planning process of these legendary men.  Here is what we know.

Chadwick Boseman: Award-winning actor and superhero

Chadwick Boseman at the 91st Annual Academy Awards held at the Hollywood and Highland in Los Angeles

Chadwick Boseman at the 91st Annual Academy Awards in 2019.

Boseman was an award-winning actor, known for many roles, including the iconic Black Panther.  His success was an inspiration to many, and he moved many of us with the depth and strength of the characters he portrayed.  His death also raised awareness of the importance of seeking preventative medical care and screening for colon cancer.  Unfortunately, he died without a will.  This is also known as dying intestate.  As a result, his wife has filed to be named executor of his estate in the L.A. County Probate Court and now may be facing inheritance tax issues in addition to expensive attorneys’ fees and court fees that could have been prevented with basic estate planning.   Boseman’s complex estate was initially estimated to be valued at approximately $900,000.  

However, now we know through the probate process that the superhero actor’s estate is worth exactly $3,577,861.11.  We know this because a court-ordered appraisal is typically required to value assets prior to distribution to beneficiaries.  Some people suspect that a large portion of Boseman’s estate also included is in accounts that pass outside of probate, such as life insurance and brokerage accounts, but that information is not public. As you would expect, there are several drawbacks to dying intestate:

  • State government makes the rules and decides who inherits your estate
  • Legal intervention required: A judge reviews the estate and orders distributions
  • Public documentation of assets and beneficiaries
  • Higher legal fees to probate the estate and manage potential beneficiary claims
  • Assets are not protected from creditors
  • Assets may be impacted by estate tax and/or gift tax

Lesson:  By working with an experienced estate planner, Boseman’s family most likely would have known the location of Boseman’s bank accounts, and could have avoided the probate process, saved money through tax planning, and he could have exercised control over how his final wishes were communicated and shared without the entire world knowing about it.  

Walt Disney: The iconic producer and creator

Kaliningrad, Russia 13 February 2020 . Walt Disney Portrait Sketch Illustration

Walt Disney

Walt Disney is a legendary American motion picture and television producer, a pioneer of animated cartoon films, not to mention an amusement park creator.  We know a lot about Disney’s estate plan since he opted for a will-based plan.   

See a copy of Walt Disney’s Will here.  

While Disney’s assets still needed to be identified and appraised or at least formally valued prior to distribution by the court, by signing a last will and testament, versus dying intestate, he was able to make his wishes known through the estate-planning process and put into place by the probate court.

It is also possible that Disney opted to designate beneficiaries to life insurance policies that would have passed outside of the probate process, and thereby remained private.   State tax laws have certainly changed since Disney’s time.  However, a will-based plan may not be the most ideal tool for estate planning to avoid estate tax and gift tax issues or take advantage of some tax planning through other estate planning options to reduce the size of a taxable estate.   While having an estate plan is better than no plan, there are still some drawbacks to a will-only based plan.

  • Legal intervention required: A judge reviews the estate and orders distributions
  • Public documentation of assets and beneficiaries
  • Higher legal fees to probate the estate and manage potential beneficiary claims
  • A living will or advance health care directive is recommended 
  • A financial power of attorney is necessary to fill in the gap of a will in case of temporary or permanent incapacity
  • Long-term care plan options may be considered with a thorough plan 

Lesson: By working with an experienced estate planner, the names of his fiduciaries, the specifics of Disney’s property distribution, the names of his beneficiaries would have been kept private, and maybe would have even avoided some inheritance tax.  And in case you’re wondering, his family confirmed that Walt’s body was not frozen, in other words not cryonically-preserved.

Eddie Van Halen: Rock-and-roll legend

Eddie Van Halen’s death also broke the hearts of fans around the world. He was a rock-and-roll legend as the founder, songwriter and lead guitarist for the rock band Van Halen.

Throughout his successful career, he experienced numerous ups and downs in his romantic life. After divorcing his first wife, Valerie Bertinelli, with whom he had a son, he married his public relations representative Janie Liszewski.  However, despite these entanglements, so far, there is little to no information available regarding his estate planning; many suspect this is because he had a trust-based estate plan, maybe even a combination of revocable living trusts and/or irrevocable living trusts, which are often used by people who value privacy and are interested in estate planning to avoid or limit inheritance tax.   Here are some of the benefits of a trust-based plan:

  • Legal intervention usually not required
  • Assets and beneficiaries are kept private
  • Lower legal fees to probate the estate and manage potential beneficiary claims
  • Create specific guidelines and restrictions to protect assets
  • Take advantage of estate-planning Tools to avoid estate tax, reduce the size of a taxable estate, and/or avoid gift tax issues 
  • Advanced healthcare directives can be included as the trust is effective while living if incapacitated and also upon death
  • Values, goals and objectives are met effectively (i.e., special needs trust, educational trust, retirement trust)
  • A customized financial power of attorney or healthcare power of attorney may supplement a trust-based estate plan

Lesson: By working with an experienced estate planner, the specifics of Van Halen’s estate plan remain private except to his fiduciary, the value of his estate was kept out of the public eye, there were no known disputes about beneficiary designations, which were kept up to date, and his loved ones’ privacy remains protected.   

What You Can Do

The great and small among us will eventually pass away. Although Chadwick Boseman, Walt Disney and Eddie Van Halen each took different estate-planning paths, retained different lawyers and law firms, and used different legal documents with their estate planning — they all had one incredible commonality which we will remember long after their money’s gone and estate taxes are paid: They made us smile by following their passions.  

To help you make things easier for you and your loved ones, and to ensure they smile when they think of you, rather than worrying about legal fees, court battles and stressfully untangling your assets and accounts, please consider contacting General Counsel PC to schedule a consultation with Ann-Marie Murzin, an experienced estate planner.

Estate planning is necessary whether you are interested in protecting your privacy through a living trust, protecting your family with a will-based plan, concerned about ensuring your retirement plan money will not be wasted, or just generally interested in protecting your hard-earned money from the government or potential creditors.  Working with Ann-Marie, head of GCPC’s Estate Planning Practice Group will help you protect your loved ones and avoid unnecessary legal fees should anything unfortunate occur. 

Contact us today at 571-396-8460, email amurzin@gcpc.com, or if you’re ready to commit to protecting yourself and your loved ones, simply contact us to schedule an appointment, to have a conversation about how we can help!

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