Within 25 years, Baby Boomers are expected to transfer $68 trillion in wealth to the next generation. Only 32% of Americans have an estate plan, which can lead to the horror stories that we’ve all heard about for the 68% who do not. Having a will is critically important to ensuring that your assets are passed on how and to whom you want them to be. It protects your assets and your family. In the Black community, the greatest asset we have is often our homes, and having a will helps us to protect the gains we’ve made and build needed generational wealth.
What is the role of a place like the Essex County Surrogate’s Court?
The Surrogate’s Court is responsible for validating wills, which are referred to as probating wills. We also appoint administrators of assets or estates if the person who dies does not have a will.
Additionally, we believe that our role is to educate the diverse communities throughout our area about the importance of having a will and other estate planning documents.
What services would a Surrogate’s Court offer to people looking to create a will?
We are prohibited from assisting people in drafting a will, however, the Surrogate’s Court participates in and creates community outreach events that educate people about the importance of wills and estate planning. For example, this National Make-A-Will Month Webinar that we just co-hosted with actor and producer Harold Perrineau. We also have support resources on our website www.essex surrogate.com. While many of our resources are specific to our audience here in Essex County, there is still valuable information that can apply to anyone.
Why do you think Black people aren’t as educated or even interested in having a will?
In our experience, Black families are not less educated or less interested in having a will. However, we’ve observed that there are a number of different factors, particularly socioeconomic, that contribute to why many Americans do not have wills. Ultimately, most people want to avoid talking about their own death. As such, our community outreach efforts allow us to assist families in having these sensitive conversations with their loved ones. We explain how estate planning can be a pathway to building generational wealth and also a way to protect our families when we find ourselves in trying times, as the current pandemic. Additionally, the failure to have a will can lead to financial losses and further economic hardships for the loved ones of the deceased.
What would you suggest to people who want to make a will when they have no knowledge about doing it?
We suggest they contact their local bar association, law school clinics, non-profit legal services, or legal aid organizations to find out if they are having any events about wills and/or will drafting. Those organizations can also refer them to attorneys that focus on estate planning. They can also visit our website to learn more about the process of estate planning.
Essex County Surrogate’s Court Web Series: National Make-A-Will Month
Alturrick Kenney Discusses the Importance of Black Families Obtaining a Will