Estate planning is key to securing our family’s well-being and wealth now and for generations to come. But the vast majority of Black people (“nearly 70%”) don’t have a plan in place. That’s why we’ve partnered with Trust & Will, an affordable online estate planning company. Get 10% off their services by using offer code MATERMEA.
A man of few words, Danielle Borro’s stepfather (“[He’s] been in my life forever, so he’s my dad”) made sure to talk to his stepchildren about death. More specifically, he wanted them to know he had a will.
“There were times where he actually chased us down to have this conversation… I was like, ‘This is so morbid,’’ the 37 year old (who uses they/them pronouns) recalls. “And he was like, ‘It’s necessary.’”
When he passed away in 2020, Danielle realized just how necessary his planning was.
“Everything was in a binder,” they explain. “Life insurance information, power of attorney, a copy of his will. It kind of just laid the framework for what needed to be done, and gave me a path to set out on.”
[Estate planning is] truly another form of love. It’s like a final embrace.
His insurance policy covered funeral costs. A veteran, he left the number to call to set up a military service. And despite issues that Danielle is currently navigating, they are grateful their dad thought through what he wanted to happen when he would no longer be here. (Along with family tensions, the state Danielle’s dad lived in doesn’t recognize stepchildren and the will wasn’t probated, or validated in court.)
“My dad will never be replaced,” they say, pausing to collect themselves. “[But] I was able to kind of find peace… The true measure of his love for me.. is shown because he left this in place so that it wouldn’t be harder. It’s truly another form of love. It’s like a final embrace.”
Estate Planning Provides Peace of Mind for Families
Danielle’s father’s initiative is uncommon: Most Americans haven’t done any estate planning. (In a 2017 Caring.com survey, only 42% of respondents had).
Many people hear “will” and “estate planning” and assume it’s only for the wealthy. However that’s not true: It’s for everyone.
Parents of young children know the importance of estate planning. It’s a way to protect and provide for their kids in the event of their untimely deaths.
But as adult children, we don’t realize the same is true when it comes to estate planning for our parents. An estate plan isn’t just about who gets what when someone dies—it’s another form of protection.
If… we don’t make plans, now, ultimately, this is going to become a burden on somebody.
“It’s a great tool for your parents to express their wishes in terms of medical care, end-of-life care, and final arrangements,” says Patrick Hicks, head of legal at Trust & Will, a digital estate planning company.
“In addition, proper planning can help cover the costs surrounding end-of-life care so that the children are not left to foot that bill,” he says.
And given the expense and complexity of elder care in this country, it helps to have a plan ahead of time. After all, you don’t have to get ready if you stay ready.
In addition, adult children are finding themselves joining a new generational crew: The Sandwich Generation. This is anyone who is “sandwiched” by their children and their parents’ financial, emotional, and physical needs.
This trend has become more common as life expectancy surges among older adults and millennials begin to start their families.
By talking to your parents about estate planning in advance of their passing or physical decline, you’re ultimately reducing the emotional and financial burden that often comes with caretaking.
Estate Planning as a Tool for Generational Wealth Building
Also, as more of us think about how we can establish and pass on generational wealth, we should include our parents in the conversation. They could be in a position to start off our family’s path toward generational wealth building.
Baby boomers are expected to pass down “some $70 trillion between 2018 and 2042,” according to a 2021 article Entrepreneur. (Ok, boomers!) This means millennials could be on track to become the wealthiest generation in history.
And for millennials with Gen X parents? Gen Xers now hold more household wealth than all the generations. (“With most of them still looking ahead to two more decades of peak earnings,” that wealth may continue to grow, Reuters reported in March 2021.)
Some people will hear these numbers and scoff. “Wealth, where?”
With proper planning, your parents’ estate can benefit future generations.
Centuries of racist practices like redlining, predatory lending, and promotion and wage gaps have made the average Black families’ household wealth virtually nonexistent. (A 2019 Institute for Policy Studies report found that “Black family wealth is on track to reach zero wealth by 2082.”)
But getting the whole family on board with estate planning now can help Black families capture more wealth to pass on to the next generation—even if what you’re starting with seems small or nonexistent.
“With proper planning, your parents’ estate can benefit future generations,” explains Patrick of Trust & Will. “The effects of proper estate planning are magnified over time. Any little bit the current generation could do now can turn into significant wealth down the line.”
Working with an estate planning firm like Trust & Will can help you and your family get your affairs in order and strategize for the future.
“There are really cool things that you can do with trusts specifically to make sure that things are in place so that no one person in the family can change the trajectory of the family’s wealth,” explains Shardea Ages, a certified financial planner and partner at Greenwood Wealth Management.
How to Have the Estate Planning Conversation With Your Parents
Understanding the value of getting your parents onboard with estate planning is one thing; actually doing it before it’s necessary is another.
What if your parents are wary of talking about estate planning? What if you’re uncomfortable even thinking about it?
Following these tips can support you in having these important conversations and securing your family’s future.
1. Acknowledge the feelings estate planning can bring up for you and your family.
“The conversation around estate planning is often about asset protection and legal designations, but what we don’t often talk about is the amount of heart involved in it,” Patrick says. “It’s difficult to think about our eventual deaths—it can feel scary to think about it, let alone talk about it.”
Those feelings are valid. But they should not be an excuse to delay estate planning for your family and your parents.
Knowing the benefits of estate planning doesn’t make the idea of losing your parents easier, but it can help make you feel less afraid about having these necessary conversations with them.
And having empathy for your parents’ feelings about their mortality can give you patience if they’re avoidant or push back.
2. Include your siblings in these conversations—and know when not to.
As women and/or de facto caregivers, these kinds of tasks tend to get dropped on our laps. And we often feel like we have to do it alone.
But if you have siblings, “don’t take on that responsibility yourself,” says Shardea of Greenwood Wealth Management.
“Talk to your siblings and have a pre-plan for how you can approach your parents or how you want to divide up some of the responsibilities,” she says.
It’s sometimes digging into their hopes … but also a little bit of their fears as well.
“Then you’re able to approach your parents like, ‘Alright, here’s a plan that we’ve [already] discussed,” she continues. “[That makes it] less of an overwhelming thing for the parents to do themselves, but then they also know that, ‘The kids are here to support us.’”
That said, sometimes siblings aren’t the best co-pilots. When that happens, make peace with it and keep it moving, says Shardea.
“The earlier you can accept that and just know that that’s going to be your responsibility,” she advises, “the easier the process will be.”
3. Talk to your parents and address their concerns about estate planning directly.
One thing that isn’t talked about in our community is the role superstitions play in keeping us from doing essential things like estate planning, says Shardea.
“My grandfather just didn’t believe in having beneficiaries listed on his accounts or having life insurance because, you know, the moment you do that, then somebody’s trying to off you, right?” she says with a laugh.
Along with not wanting to think about their deaths, some parents may be concerned about being a burden. Shardea recommends addressing their fears head on by using their own logic.
“[You can say,] ‘You don’t want to burden anyone, I can understand that. If… we don’t make plans, now, ultimately, this is going to become a burden on somebody,’” she says. “‘So why don’t we approach it now, while we have the time and we, and we can kind of do it together?’”
And if they’re incredibly private, and don’t want anyone in their business, speak directly to that concern.
“It’s like, ‘Do you want me rummaging through all of your stuff? Or do you want me to just be able to go straight to this nicely prepared box that has all the information in there?’” Shardea says. “So it’s sometimes digging into their hopes, their dreams, their desires, but also a little bit of their fears as well.”
4. Educate your parents.
As Patrick of Trust & Will said, many people just think of estate planning as who gets what when you die. But explaining the impact estate planning can have on your parents’ care and ultimately your family’s legacy can help them get on board.
Call them up and share what you’ve learned with them. Use examples of what can happen when there isn’t a will. You can look to celebrities and everyday people for heartbreaking stories to illustrate your point.
A Business Insider article shares an especially illuminating story: When the author’s mother died without a will, she and her siblings lost a considerable amount of money. After two years in probate court, they sold her home for $75,000 and lost $34,500 of it to pay off legal fees, fines, and back taxes.
To add insult to injury, the author and her siblings watched as someone bought the home and flipped it for $175,000.
The author was left to wonder “why my mother would not carry out a simple task and get a will in order to maximize her 30-year investment and create intergenerational wealth.”
“If she had made a will, we—her beneficiaries—in all likelihood would not have had to go through probate court,” she writes. “And even if we did it certainly wouldn’t have taken as long, thereby significantly lowering all the fees and fines.”
Learning the ripple effects not having a will can have on what they’ve built may change your parents’ minds.
Tell your parents, “‘You’ve amassed the home, you’ve amassed the wealth, what did you do it for?’” Shardea says. “‘It was for yourself and to build a life for your family, but does that desire just cease when you pass? Or do you want to continue to be able to provide for and be strategic about your finances and the assets that you own?”
5. Set your own expectations accordingly.
While estate planning may unveil some pleasant surprises (like “assets that you weren’t aware of,” Patrick explains), don’t go into the process expecting those kinds of discoveries.
“It’s best to expect the unexpected because every family likely has a financial skeleton or two in the closet,” he says.. “This capitalist economy operates on debt, and yet, we often feel shameful when we have it.”
Be prepared for the possibility of discovering credit card or medical debt, along with school and personal loans and other family secrets.
“We kind of have to know who our parents are, right?” Shardea says. “Like, if they were the types of folks that were a little bit careless with their money and weren’t great planners, then you kind of have to go into that situation knowing that there probably isn’t going to be a whole lot here for me. Especially if you’re the administrator of the estate, it’s probably going to be more work than ‘reward’ at the end of all this.”
6. Work with your parents and a professional.
Now that you’ve addressed the emotional parts of estate planning, it’s time to get to the work of it. Talk to your parents and get a sense of if they already have a will and where those end-of-life documents are.
And if your parents haven’t done any estate planning, help them gather all the information that they’ll need.
[This] totally changed [our] view of what we were doing to make sure our children will have a plan and security.
“First help them add up their debts,” says Patrick. “Ask them about any mortgages they have, car loans, personal loans, student loans, and credit-card balances.
“Then, you can help them add up their assets,” he continues. “There are some low-hanging fruit such as homes and automobiles, but what we don’t often talk about openly is the balance on their bank accounts, savings, retirement plans, and investment accounts.
“There may also be some business assets, including equipment, that could be of significant value. Then, help them focus on tallying up personal assets that they can easily sell for more than $100. Your mom’s antique teacup collection? Your dad’s set of records from the 1970s and ‘80s. All of this is fair game.”
Once you have all that information, bring it to an estate planning professional. There’s no such thing as a simple will. They’ll help create your parents’ will, account for complexities (e.g. blended families, business succession), and ensure its validity.
Working with a vetted professional can save your family in probate taxes and fees, making sure more of your wealth is passed on to future generations.
7. Regularly check in and update your estate plans.
Estate planning is not a one-and-done scenario. It should be updated any time there’s a major life change, like a divorce, marriage, death, birth, or new home purchase.
Support your parents in revisiting their estate plan (and you should do the same for yours, too).
Shardea likes to check in with her clients every year (“just high level, has anything changed in your life”), and recommends revisiting your will “every couple of years… just to make sure that your wishes haven’t changed.”
8. Do better for your kids.
Whether your parents are on board with estate planning, or ultimately decide they’d rather not, having these conversations provide a “blueprint of what not to do,” says Shardea.
“If we’re caring for our parents and we’re caring for small children, then [we’re] thinking about, ‘Alright, how can I not be a burden on my children?” she says. “‘Maybe I should start thinking about long-term care insurance for myself so that my children don’t have to worry about taking care of me.’”
Danielle realized they and their partner hadn’t given much thought to their own family’s needs the way their father had. Sure, they had 401ks through work, but where was the paperwork? Had those policies lapsed? And who would look after their children should they die unexpectedly?
“I’m a grown up and my dad was making sure that I was okay, and my children are okay,” they say. “My dad had a plan laid out for what was for me, my sister, my child… I didn’t have my second child yet when this will was done, [but] the language that he left it in is like, ‘Should my children’s descendants…’ like, ‘Should there be more this is what they should have…’
“It was kind of like, ‘Well, what are we doing?’” Danielle continues. “Totally changed my partner and I’s view of what we were doing to make sure our children will have a plan and security when we leave this Earth.”
Use these same strategies to create an estate plan of your own. It will protect your children while you’re here, and give them that “final embrace” when you’re no longer with them.
Estate planning can feel overwhelming, so much so that you may feel tempted to avoid doing it completely. But by getting the whole family planning for the future, you’re setting everyone up for an easier tomorrow.
Do you have additional questions about creating an estate plan for you and/or your parents? You can connect with someone from Trust & Will here—use the offer code MATERMEA to get 10% off any estate plan at checkout.