Most fans of the Issa Rae-produced dramedy, Insecure, waited with bated breath for its culminating season. Romance, children, and friendship took center stage as its final episodes determined how the characters that viewers had grown to love would live on in perpetuity. But it also explored those hard to address topics that come along with growing up. Chief among them—aging parents and estate planning.
For many Americans, formulating a last will and testament is often associated with uncomfortable feelings of facing one’s own mortality, something the show tackled head-on. So much so that less than half of U.S. adults—46 percent according to a Gallup poll—have a will that will determine where their assets will go at the time of their death. For Black Americans, that number is 70 percent.
“I think it is cultural,” Kenneth Kelly, Chairman and CEO of First Independence Bank tells EBONY. “If you look back over time and the history we have come from, a lot of people may say or use a term that they ‘come from nothing.’ And typically that doesn't mean values it just means that we may have had very little material belongings.”
The leader behind the estate planning platform My Legacy Items says that that belief, over time, has robbed Black Americans of our possessions, including finances, homes, land, and other valuables. “We used to own quite a bit of land in this country, coming from the agricultural background in the south,” Kelly explains, “and much of that property was displaced because it wasn't passed properly.”
Kelly says there is also a disconnect when it comes to being educated on the topic. Few people understand the hoops and hurdles their loved ones will have to navigate at the time of their death if an estate plan has not been executed. Kelly stresses, “We need to make what I would say are wiser decisions in terms of taking care of our loved ones.”
Over the next 25 years, roughly $70 trillion will transfer hands from the deceased to the living. For African Americans that will be one of the largest transfers of wealth associated with death. Kelly says it’s important for individuals to be aware of this. “Even if it is just a $30,000 house that you have, or two acres of land down South where your great grandparents lived,” Kelly emphasizes, “It is still property that has value and it should not be discounted.”
Last year Kelly authored and published Prepared Before I Let Go: Preserving Your Possessions Through Proper Planning to get the word out about the importance of protecting one’s assets. He recognized a pattern of both high-profile individuals like Prince and James Brown, and everyday Black Americans passing on and having their affairs tied up in probate courts. “It becomes expensive,” Kelly says of when third parties have to get involved. “Those dollars don't get to go to your family because they are again used to take care of attorneys fees.” That’s why Kelly created and launched My Legacy Items to make the process easier. Through the estate planning platform, users can pay as little as $50 to upload their assets to the site and add executors.
Financial experts suggest that every American 18 years and older should have a will. Even if assets aren’t a factor, a will should include who can and should make medical decisions in the event that an adult (anybody 18 and over) is incapable of making decisions on their own. “At the end of the day we will all have a legacy,” Kelly says. “And [estate planning] is an opportunity to try to proactively describe what that is going to be.”