Wills are for us, too!
Aretha Franklin. Prince. Bob Marley. Barry White. Marvin Gaye. Tupac. The list of celebrities of color that have died without a will goes on and on.
As we grieve the latest loss of musical icon, the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin, we should also take the opportunity to learn some lessons. Many in our community seem to think that wills are for white people. As a result, they do not seek the protections they need and often die intestate (without a will).
This is dangerous for a lot of reasons.
First, as we see in the media, the artist’s families end up fighting over what the artist’s estate and intentions were. As a result, the families end up engaged in a long court battle, and the estate is reduced due to attorneys’ fees. The long, often drawn out battle spills into the media with the artist’s private life on full display.
Sixty four percent of Americans do not have a will. Please know that you do not have to be a millionaire to have a will. Wills protect your assets after you pass away, and it is a way of setting in stone what your intentions are. From a basic perspective, even if you do not own property—who gets the money in your bank account after you are gone? Who gets your car? What do you want to happen to your personal effects—like your pictures, your family Bible, jewelry, or some memorabilia that you hold dear? Do you want your children fighting over who gets what? What do you want your spouse or partner to have?
If you do not designate who gets these items, it may get thrown in the garbage, or sold on eBay. Any valuable assets that you have can end up going to the government of the state you live in. I’ve yet to hear about anyone who wants to give the government more money.
The fewer items you have, the easier the process is, but it's still the best way to make sure that your items are accounted for after you pass away, and that the people you care the most about receive what you would like them to have.
Additionally, there is a huge community building component that can’t be overlooked. You can designate your physical assets or money to go to a charity upon your death, which is very commonly done. You can select a charity that is close to your heart - one that does work around the issues you care the most about; you can leave it to your church or local community center; or you can even leave money to your alma mater. It's a great way to leave a legacy after you are gone.
Creating a will is not complicated. You can reach out to an attorney privately to draft it. If you need to find an attorney who specializes in wills, you can contact your home state bar association, or reach out to your local Black bar association (usually easily found on Facebook or Google.)There are also do-it-yourself kits that can be purchased from a place like Office Depot or Staples that allow you to do your will, on your own, with fairly detailed instructions. Lastly there are also online resources like LegalZoom where you can have a will done as well.
As a community, we really need to break the cycle of dying without a will. There is power in the purse; if we designate our money to go towards causes we care about, we can continue to grow our communities and create more political power to further our common cause. Other communities have exercised their power from beyond the grave. Even though a will brings up the unpleasantness of our own mortality, we shouldn't fear it. Doing a will doesn't mean you're going to die the next day; it just means you are prepared for what will happen eventually, and you are taking smart steps to provide for your family as well as your community.