If you’re fan of the OWN series Queen Sugar, you’re well aware how much a will can make all of the difference when it comes to the people and property left behind when a loved one passes. As I finalized flight and hotel reservations this past week for an upcoming weekend getaway me and hubby will be taking soon, he interrupted my talk of checked bags and the burger place I want to go back to with, “We really should have something in writing about what happens with our daughter in case anything ever happens to us.”

It’s a thought no one ever likes to entertain, but one I entertained briefly a few weeks before during the benefits re-enrollment process at my job as I shopped life insurance and listed beneficiaries. I’ve seen the drama that can unfold when a relative passes and no plan is left in place. Family members channel their grief into disagreement and drama and make major arguments over minor details like whether to go with the lilies or carnations for funeral flowers. Although it’s easy to take on the attitude that you won’t really be aware of what happens in the event of your death, the truth is that you can have a say in what happens with not just your assets but also the relationships between your friends and family during what will probably be a very difficult time.

As a part of their Money Series, mater mea reached out to estate-planning lawyer Lori Anne Douglas who dropped some gems about the importance of creating a will and updating it according to the changes in your life:

Douglass, a partner at New York City-based Moses & Singer LLP, shares not having a will can have consequences for your family down the road and it’s not fair to assume your family will just figure it out:

“People don’t understand that when you die, all your stuff stays here,”

“And if you don’t make a plan for it, it’ll get to the next generation, but there’ll be a significant haircut.”

She also believes that failure to estate-plan is one of the reasons why generational wealth has often alluded the African-American community:

“Having done this for 25 years and watched all the money that was lost in families because they didn’t have any planning, I am convinced that if the African-American community got on the good foot and every Black person who is alive over 60 did their estate planning, we’d be the richest minority group in the United States in one generation. We used to be the assets. Now we have assets.”

Douglass shares that when it comes to estate-planning, it’s best to get the assistance of attorney, particularly when issues such as property and guardianship of children come into play because things can get very complicated. She also adds that estate-planning doesn’t just have to apply to what happens in the event of your death, but also what happens in the event that you become disabled and can’t communicate your wants and needs:

“It’s equally as important. Most people are going to be disabled for some period of time before they die now that people are living so long. If the person becomes disabled and can’t make their own medical or financial decisions, the only way that somebody can legally make [decisions] for them is to go to court and do a guardianship or conservatorship proceeding. It’s expensive and time-consuming, and it’s just really unnecessary.

A person [should] complete, for medical directives, a health-care proxy that appoints somebody to make your medical decisions if you can’t make them; a living will that address whether you want to be removed from artificial life support if that life support is only going to prolong your natural death; and a general power of attorney that allows somebody to make your financial decisions if you can’t make them. All of those documents can be found online for free.”

Douglass also shares that when it comes to costs, it’s much cheaper to administer an estate when there’s a will in place than when there isn’t one:

“More than 50% of African Americans die without a will. Everybody should have a last will and testament if you don’t have a more complex estate plan, because it’s always cheaper to administer an estate when you have a will than when you don’t have anything.”

And when it comes to your little ones, you can’t just assume that they will automatically be placed in the care of a favorite auntie or set of grandparents:

“If you have minor children, a will is the only legal document where you can nominate guardians for your children.”

To learn more about estate-planning and making sure your loved ones are cared and provided for in your absence, you can read the two-part article here.

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