When actor Chadwick Boseman (who played the character of “Black Panther” in the Marvel Comics films) died in August after a four-year battle with colon cancer, he left behind a legacy of memorable roles spanning over a decade. At the time of his death, Mr. Boseman’s estimated net worth was $12 million, and it was expected that a majority of his remaining property would be transferred to his wife. Shortly after his death it was revealed that he left no will in place and thus, the disposition of his remaining property fell to the state of California.
As surprising it may seem that a successful actor (with considerable assets) did not draft a will before passing, this scenario is not unique, an estimated 68% of Americans do not have a will . Recently, the coronavirus pandemic prompted an increase in estate planning, as 27% of people currently with a will created one due to concerns related to illness or death from COVID-19 . Despite this uptick, the overall percentage of people without a will is troublesome and many affected families risk the hard work of loved ones being distributed in a manner opposite of the deceased relative’s wishes.
When a person dies without a will, the deposition of their property is determined by the state intestacy laws. The order of who inherits the remaining property of the deceased is known as intestate succession. In intestate succession, only property that would have been distributed by a will is applicable under intestacy laws.
Some examples of property not distributed via intestate succession:
property transferred to a living trust
life insurance proceeds
funds in an IRA, 401(k), or other retirement account
securities held in a transfer-on-death account
payable-on-death bank accounts
property owned in joint tenancy or tenancy by the entirety.
The aforementioned property will pass to the surviving owner or named beneficiary regardless of whether a valid will exists. Other property is subject to intestacy laws and will be distributed based on the relationship of the distributee to the deceased person.
A quick primer on intestate succession in New York:
The intestacy laws (NY EPT §§ 4-1.1-4-1.6) may be found here: https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/laws/EPT/A4P1 and here: https://codes.findlaw.com/ny/estates-powers-and-trusts-law/
Prudent estate planning is not just for the wealthy, it is a valuable tool for anyone to ensure that the fruits of years of hard work are not spoiled. The process may be complicated and confusing at times, but this initial difficulty should not prevent estate planning. Everyone should be able to control who is responsible for the administration of their estate and proper planning is crucial.
Our Firm has extensive experience in drafting wills and Estate planning. If you have any questions about this Legal Briefing, please contact any member of the firm at (585) 730-4773.
This Legal Briefing is intended for general informational and educational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice or counsel. The substance of this Legal Briefing is not intended to cover all legal issues or developments regarding the matter. Please consult with an attorney to ascertain how these new developments may relate to you or your business. © 2020 Law Offices of Pullano & Farrow PLLC