One of the catalysts that pushed me to start Ms. Engineered Wealth was a documentary film I saw in DC called “Black Heirlooms” that is narrated and directed by Amanda Brown.
The film follows the estate planning issues that tore one black family apart upon the passing of the one of their grandparents. The film documents the struggles that ensued as the family fought to divide up $51,000 in assets among the heirs.
Some key points from this NY Times article about the documentary.
“He [Vonley] had his hands in the grocery business, real estate, taxi cabs and livestock, and all eight of his children graduated from college, even though he and his wife, Edna Mae Royal, did not finish high school.
In the decades after Mr. Royal’s death, family members tried to get Ms. Royal to make her wishes known about how she wanted them to divide her assets once she died. “We attempted, on too many occasions, to get Mom to do something like this”. We backed off to let her do what she wanted to do.
Older relatives fall gravely ill. Their wishes regarding their care and assets are unclear. Siblings converge, huddle, bicker, then go to war with one another. Money goes to lawyers that could have gone to heirs, and fissures form that never heal.”
You can check out the 18 minute film here.
After watching Black Heirlooms, it was all I could talk about for weeks.
The reason was that this story hit extremely close to home…
My story is sadly, similar enough.
My grandpa emigrated from Jamaica to the US and proceeded to build his family and life here. During that time, he was able to successfully build wealth through buying and selling plots of land.
By the time, he passed away, there was a decent amount of assets to distribute among his children and grandchildren.
Unfortunately, my grandfather didn’t have a will or any written statement for how his wanted his assets to be passed on. So whatever homes, properties and business interests he has amassed over his lifetime ended tied up probate process in the court system.
To this day, I don’t know the outcome of those court proceedings, but it did take a toll on relationships within my family as people fought and debated about what they felt they were rightfully entitled to.
Sadly, I don’t think the story of the Royals or what happened in my family is that unusual for communities of color.
The film brings to the light the historical difficulty that minority families have had in passing down intergenerational wealth. The inability to pass on accumulated assets between generations is one piece of the racial wealth gap.
So the question is how you prevent this scenario from happening to you and your family?
As the film advocates, one the first things you can do is to start having these conversations within your communities and your families.
Below are a couple articles with questions that you could use to start those conversations. And then of course consult with an estate attorney.
What questions should I ask myself as I begin the estate planning process?