By LaKeshia N. Myers
The Bible says, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every [a]purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).
I would also argue that we must make time to prepare for life after we are gone.
As the years progress, I have come to the stark realization that my friends and I have reached the age where we are assuming new titles—we are now caregivers, caretakers, powers of attorney, guardians and executors of estates. These titles are bestowed upon us sometimes without warning, while for others it takes on a slower, more agonizing approach. My immediate circle now includes: a widow, a widower, two friends who’ve lost parents within the last year, a full-time caregiver, and a friend who is the fiscal custodian for a parent with a degenerative disease. Not one of these individuals has reached the age of 40. Not one of them was prepared to take care of or bury their loved ones.
Help is available, by soliciting the help of an estate attorney. Estate lawyers help both married couples and individuals prior to and upon a person passing away. For generations in the African American and other communities of color, estate planning and pre-death preparation has been looked upon unfavorably. I’m here to tell you, talking about death, won’t kill you—in fact, it will probably save your family a lot of time and money when the time eventually does come.
According to Wealth Counsel, an online resource for basic estate planning, there are four major myths that have attributed to people of color not seeking planning advice:
Myth #1: No Need for an Estate Plan-According to Wealth Counsel, “the biggest misconception is the idea that estate planning is only for the wealthy” (Wealth counsel, 2021). It is imperative to stress that every person has belongings (tangible personal property) that, in the absence of an estate plan, may not be distributed the way the person envisions.
When my aunt passed last year, she was meticulous about how her tangible assets should be distributed, she had listed in detail the names of certain individuals and possessions she wished us to have.
Myth #2: An Estate Plan is Only for Death-Estate plans are not only for death, but also life. As a single adult with no children, I learned this the hard way. When I was diagnosed with kidney disease at age 30, I was instructed by doctors that I had to establish a medical power of attorney as well as an advanced directive on file with the hospital. I, like many, assumed my parents would be able to make medical decisions on my behalf should anything happen to me—I was wrong. Their legal responsibility ended when I turned 18; and having no spouse, had I not established a medical power of attorney or living will, my medical fate may have been left to chance. Living wills and medical powers of attorney establish the people or person you designate to make medical decisions on your behalf. It also outlines in detail whether (or not) and how your life should be preserved.
Myth #3: A Will Save You from Probate-While having a will can surely help the probate process, the belief that having a will avoids probate is a misconception. It is important to remember that, while having a will prevents state law from determining who will receive your assets, it does not prevent probate. Further planning is needed to ensure that hard-earned assets go to heirs—and not toward expenses incurred during probate court proceedings. Setting up a revocable trust can save your family immensely. You can build generational wealth by setting up a trust instead of simply naming beneficiaries to receive assets outright. Designating beneficiaries will avoid probate, but beneficiaries who receive lump sums of money may squander it, leaving nothing for the next generation. Instead, advisors suggest giving beneficiaries access to a trust fund during their lives and then directing in the trust document that any remaining assets be held for the next generation (Wealth Counsel, 2021).
I encourage all people, regardless of wealth status to seek out the advice of an estate attorney to discuss estate planning. I also advise everyone to speak to their medical team regarding medical power of attorney and advanced directives.
If you need more information, please reach out to the Marquette Law Clinic at 414-288-6912, the Wisconsin State Law Library 1-800-322-9755, or the Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee 414-727-5300.