April 9, 2020: The purpose of this blog post is to plant a seed to get each reader to take care of their legacy by getting their business affairs in order. When I have asked rooms full of people, regardless of their incomes, if they have prepared a will, advanced directive or other important documents, the answer is the same. Most people have not. We can look to examples like Prince and Aretha Franklin to see what happens when there is no will.
Even if you think you don’t have significant assets, if you have young children, you need to have a will that names a guardian for your children. This is something that needs to be discussed with the potential guardian so that this is not a surprise if it needs to be put into effect. If you have a spouse, talk to them about finances. Are there insurance policies and who is the beneficiary? Is there a pension and is the spouse clearly named on that pension document? Never assume anything. I can give you real life examples of pensions that were lost because the spouse was not listed to receive the pension.
There have been too many instances where African American families have lost property because after the death of the owner, the asset was not designated in a will and the property was never legally transferred to anyone. Family members start arguing, nothing gets taken care of, taxes are not paid and property is lost. This is a major tragedy in the African American community and one of the contributors to the lack of wealth transfer from one generation to the next.
Historically, my family owned a lot of land. In the end, the only thing that is left is the family cemetery. The last pieces of property that had not been sold, were taken for taxes. In my family, I discussed with my father leaving a will. He fought this for years but finally relented and made me the executor. The blessing was that when he died (my mother was already deceased), we discovered that he had collected the information on all of his policies, deeds to property, information on his cars, etc. safe deposit box keys and his will and had everything in a suitcase that was given to me by one of his friends who had the information for safe keeping. Make sure your spouse knows where all the documents are located. If you live alone, hopefully there is a designated family member who has the information. As an aside, don’t keep the original will in a safe deposit box as it will take sometime to get access to this. Keep a copy in the safe deposit box. Because my father was organized, this made a difficult situation much easier. My father was under the belief that he had nothing worth anything which is why he hesitated to do a will. At the time of his death he had six surviving children. Having a will at least eliminated any possible disagreements, although as siblings, we always got along. One of my sisters died 24 hours before my father. Another story. She did not have a will so I had myself named as her estate administrator in New York so I could take care of her financial affairs.
So, if you don’t have a will, get one. If you don’t have a living will or an advance directive, complete one. This is important for young people as this is where the issues of end of life get raised. Think about who you would want to designate as your power of attorney in case you needed someone to handle your affairs. A power of attorney can be given and taken away. A durable power of attorney allows someone to make both financial and medical decisions. This lasts beyond the point that a person has mental capacity. Be very careful about who you give these powers to, which is why you need to think about this before this has to be done in an emergency.
Please review your policies including medical insurance. Consider long term care insurance while you are young as the older you get, the more expensive this becomes. If you have been vested in a company for which you worked, make sure they have your current information so that you don’t lose out on your pension when it is time to retire. Review your Social Security earnings statement annually as you only have a limited time to correct mistakes. If your employer has a 401K, please invest in it and watch that investment. Some companies provide a match to what you put in. It is important that spouses talk to each other about financial and legal information.
African Americans have been guilty of not thinking about their final arrangements as well as leaving a financial legacy including having documents in order. I have heard the sayings over and over again that I am only leaving enough to bury me, or I got mine, they will have to get theirs. Please break this pattern, no matter to what community you belong.