The FWD Special: Estate Planning Unlocks Generational Wealth

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The FWD #SE15 • 447 Words

co-written by Nikki D’Adamo-Damery, Community Coordinator at the Maggie Walker Community Land Trust (MWCLT), and Whitney Brown, HousingForward Staff member and MWCLT homeowner

“Wills are for rich people.” 

This was the first reaction from a Maggie Walker CLT homeowner when we discussed the idea of estate planning. “Having grown up in a low-income community,” they said, “this is not language I know.”

Our first encounter with estate planning often comes from books and TV dramas, where a mystery surrounds the final will of a wealthy (white) businessman. To many people, estate planning implies vast land holdings and immense wealth—not a house with a mortgage sitting on a fraction of an acre.

But the ability to pass down wealth and property from generation to generation is a fundamental part of wealth building, even for low- and middle-income families. Yet, at least 56% of adults don’t have a will, and that number is even higher for non-white households—72%. So for the vast majority of families, inheritance is left to state law, which can be complicated and challenging to navigate. This makes heirs vulnerable to land loss due to foreclosure and tax delinquency. In fact, racial inequity is still evident due to historical practices like housing discminiation and redlining in Richmond that impacts intergenerational wealth. 

In fact, inheritance may be the single biggest contributing factor to the racial wealth gap, more than any other socioeconomic indicator. So if we are looking for leverage points to address the fact that the median wealth of Black families ($17,000) is less than one tenth of the median wealth of white families ($171,000), we should be thinking about the ways that wealth is passed from generation to generation. 

Homeownership continues to be the primary means for wealth accumulation during a person’s lifetime. For this purpose, organizations like MWCLT in Richmond have focused on ways to create and sustain affordable homeownership opportunities for families with low to moderate incomes who would otherwise be priced out of the market. But in order for these efforts to have systemic, generational impacts, our homeowners and other homeowners with low to moderate incomes need to be able to efficiently pass their assets onto their heirs. 

An organization dedicated to this type of work is the Association for Black Estate Planning Professionals. This organization is composed of attorneys, CPAs, trust officers, insurance professionals, financial planners, business developers, and community members that focus on bridging the racial wealth gap by creating, conserving, and channeling wealth.

Knowledge and understanding of estate planning isn’t a magic bullet, but—alongside policy measures—it should be a part of our work to address the racial wealth gap for future generations. If you want to find out more about why wills and estate planning are for everyone, join MWCLT for a free webinar on Wednesday, May 26th at 6pm.

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