It’s time to write a will

Christina Greer, Ph.D. | 7/23/2020, midnight

I recently spent six weeks sheltering in place at my father’s house in Delaware. I was fortunate enough to be able to escape the heat and anxiety of New York City and enjoy the fresh air and the daily morning bird songs. While I was staying with my father, I used the time to hear stories of his childhood and hear in his own words what it was like growing up in segregated Miami in the 1950s and 1960s.

During some of our conversations we also had some of the hard conversations many families avoid. My dad is only in his early 70s, but I realized I knew little to nothing about his last wishes or where any of his financial files are located. I realized I had no idea where my dad banks, where his pensions are located, what insurance policies he holds, or any of his final wishes. Therefore, while I was in Delaware, I decided to use my time to speak to my father about these affairs and have the conversations most families choose not to have.

My father leads a relatively uncomplicated life and his wishes are to have my sister and myself share his assets when he is no longer with us. However, in the course of our discussions, I discovered my father did not have a will. I then spoke to several friends who have lost a parent and most discovered their parents did not have a will until after their death, making the arrangements and final wishes of their late parent much more complicated.

Most state laws indicate that if you die without writing a will, it means you have died “intestate.” When this occurs, the intestacy laws of the state where you reside will determine how your property is distributed upon your death. Depending on your state, these rules can vary substantially. This distribution of assets includes any bank accounts, real estate, and other assets you own at the time of death.

Far too many Black families have not had these conversations with loved ones and have not made a will before they pass. Therefore, Black families continue to lose generational wealth, whether it is a family home, a farm down south left to them by their elders, a pension from a job they worked for decades, or any other financial gain that could and should be left in the family.

As difficult and uncomfortable as these conversations may be, it is imperative we have these conversations with our loved ones before they are incapacitated or pass. No one enjoys these conversations, but they must be had. So, in this era of COVID-19, we must have these conversations and get the paperwork done to protect our families and the hard-earned gains of our parents and loved ones.

Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Fordham University, the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream,” and the co-host of the podcast FAQ-NYC.