You Can’t Take It With You

Dying without a will means leaving things to chance

Who’s getting your money, your house, or guardianship of your children when you die? According to a recent survey, many blacks are leaving it up to the state to decide. Only 32% of African American adults have wills, compared with 52% of whites, finds a Lawyers.com poll conducted by Harris Interactive. And 44% of blacks don’t have any elements of an estate plan.

Among black survey respondents, the top two reasons for not having any estate planning documents in place were not knowing who to talk to about creating a plan (17%) and not being old enough to have one (17%). The most common reason (24%) given by respondents of all races was not having sufficient assets to warrant an estate plan.
Being rich is not the only justification for an estate plan. “It also tells the world who you want to be guardians of your children if both parents are deceased,” says Alan Kopit, legal editor of Lawyers.com, and specifies who has power of attorney for healthcare decisions, financial decisions, or temporary operation of your business if you become seriously ill or injured.

Denzil McKenzie, an estate planning attorney based in Boston, believes employment benefits such as discounted fees for legal services constitute one reason a larger percentage of whites have wills. Workers “may belong to labor unions that offer some kind of legal services that permit them to have estate plans done fairly inexpensively,” says McKenzie. McKenzie says such benefits are less available to people of color, who are less unionized.

Books such as The Busy Family’s Guide to Estate Planning: 10 Steps to Peace of Mind (Nolo; $24.99) by Liza Weiman Hanks can get you started. –

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