Estate planning in black families

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my own death and what it might mean for my son.

I don’t mean to be morbid. But thinking about who will take care of your children when you’re gone is a hugely important topic that most parents either don’t want to think about or it’s waaay down on the list of priorities because of day-to-day pressures (weekday dinner, anyone?).

It’s also a topic that tends to be a huge blindspot for many black families, largely because of lower wealth rates compared to whites. A new study from the Pew Research Center shows that the recession and falling home equity has meant that the median wealth of white household is now 20 times that of black households and 18 times that of Hispanic households.

So what does that mean for estate planning? Well, even if you’re a middle-class black family who might be more inclined to focus on estate planning – because you’re educated or you saw what happened to your Aunt Betty Mae when she died intestate -- the after-effects of the recession and the housing crisis take priority over planning for the future.

African American parent Jehan Jones, whose son recently turned 1, said her husband, who is white, had a will before they were married. “I don’t have a will and haven’t done any estate planning past the beneficiary forms that are required with my job…. I guess it’s not something culturally that I grew up with. My mom had to pay for my grandparents funerals etc. and I remember her saying that’s not something that she wanted to burden us with.”

However, it wasn’t her mother or meeting her husband that caused her to focus on the issue, it was after her son was born. “I feel like now we must have a will but we haven’t done anything because we feel like we have time.”

So, what’s a black parent to do? I can tell you what I did. I put my fears of death aside and finally got cracking. I had ordered a book on financial planning for new parents BEFORE my son was born but never even cracked it open. When I read it recently, I found super informative chapters on child trusts and life insurance (which I always knew I had through my job but I actually tracked down the policy information and levels of coverage).

Now the will is finally underway and I feel great about that. How about you, do you have a will? If not, why?

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