Queen Sugar is currently one of the best, most talked about shows on TV. The depth of the characters is only secondary to the show’s intense storyline, familial drama, and exploration of real-world issues plaguing the Black community such as mass incarceration, the plight of Black farmers, and the messiness of love and betrayal.
My connection to Queen Sugar runs just as deep as the connection to my own family, as I noticed many similarities between my lived experience and what has been portrayed on screen. One of the things that always sticks out to me after each episode is how unprepared many Black families are for the unexpected, like the death of a loved one or a loss of income. In Queen Sugar, the Bordelon siblings are forced to pull together to settle their father’s debts and transform his troubled far after he dies. While both of my parents are still living, planning for the worst is increasingly becoming one of my biggest concerns as they age.
Last year, my mother suffered two brain aneurysms, and while I tried to focus on not falling apart, I was given an even bigger responsibility before she had emergency brain surgery — Power of Attorney.
At the time, I didn’t know half of the information I needed to make the best decisions for my mother. I didn’t have a clue what type of insurance she had, I didn’t know her banking information, and I didn’t know if she had documented any of her final wishes just in case she did not make it out the hospital alive. To make matters worse, two months after my mother’s life threatening condition, my father needed to have emergency open-heart surgery.
Though having to deal with both my parents’ medical issues was stressful, after quickly learning how to manage my mother’s affairs, I was able to handle the situation a bit better when it came to my father. Instead of operating without a plan, I was able review all of my father’s important documents and worked with him to create a will that spelled out out exactly what would happen if he didn’t make it out of the surgery alive. I was blessed that both of my parents survived, but like the Bordelon siblings, many of us don’t get a happy ending.
Conversation about finances and the final wishes of our loved ones can be extremely difficult, but it is something that the Black community can no longer ignore. In a time where Black men and women are turned into hashtags and names in a Black Lives Matter chant, and Black mothers and fathers are praying their children make it home safely every night, our communities can’t simply hope for the best. We’ve also got to prepare for the worst.
To find out how families can be equipped to handle unforeseen challenges, I spoke with financial guru Malcolm “MJ” Harris, CEO of National Care Financial Group, one of the largest Black owned Financial services companies in America. Harris shared three areas Black families should focus on when trying to plan for the unexpected.
Have sufficient life insurance
Having life insurance to cover your final expenses isn’t enough, according to Harris. Families must also have enough coverage to replace the deceased person’s income. When someone passes away unexpectedly, families can easily go from a dual-income household to struggling to make ends meet, and if a couple has young children, they must make sure they’ve purchased enough insurance to support their children until they reach adulthood. Furthermore, if one person owns a business, there needs to be enough life insurance in place to cover the business’ expenses too.
Update and share all financial information
During the estate planning process families should contact all of their existing financial institutions and designate a beneficiary who can collect assets when someone passes away. This is not a difficult process–and usually only requires the beneficiary’s name, address, phone number, and social security number—but it’s necessary. The risk of not naming a beneficiary who can manage the estate—no matter how big or small—can cause the family to deal with frustrating red tape in order to gain access to what you may have already intended for them to have in the first place. In addition to naming a beneficiary, also consider having a will drawn up to ensure that all affairs are in order prior to death. Making sure that everyone in the family is involved in the will-making process is also an important step that can ensure there aren’t any surprises.
Make a plan to control of Your Legacy
Planning for death is not just about the financial or the legal aspects of things. It’s about being a responsible person who is also in full control of the legacy you wish to leave behind. If you pass away without your affairs in order, you take away your family’s ability to grieve properly. Moreover, being unprepared can create unnecessary conflicts between family members over things like money and property, when they could instead have a guide to carry out your final wishes.
Having the talk about death is never an easy one. No one wants to discuss what life looks after they are gone. But, death is inevitable, so making sure we are not surprised when it comes is vital. Black folks have always made a way when a loved one passes—raising money for families in need, taking out loans, asking others to chip in—but the time has come for us encourage our loved ones to be more prepared for life’s most inevitable transition.