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Closing the Racial Wealth Gap with Affordable Wills

Attorney speaking with Black man

Authors of the recent paper Wills, Wealth and Race by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College suggest wealth inequalities that exist in the Black and Hispanic communities are, in part, because members of those communities are far less likely to have a will or to receive an inheritance than Whites. The domino effect of this problem has caused what the authors refer to as a “racial wealth gap.”    


The study, released in August 2023, points out the impact of even modest inheritances on families. Over successive generations, it can lead to prosperity or conversely a lack thereof to poverty. They suggest that the share of the average family’s current wealth due to inheritances ranges from 20-80 percent.


“The difference between inheriting some [assets] compared to relying solely on current income is huge...[It] allows families to withstand emergencies...provides families with resources for a down payment on a house...and provides some additional assets in retirement.” 

Black communities are not experiencing the “lift” that inheritances provide to families because they tend to receive fewer and smaller bequests than Whites and are also less likely to intend to leave a bequest or have a will. The consequences of having no will or a plan for a bequest are significant for families.


Without a will, a person’s assets are distributed according to the government’s “default” plan for their families. This default plan is called intestacy. Intestacy is contributing to the racial wealth gap. Without a will, intestacy disperses assets to unintended recipients. This outcome is a particular problem for people with modest estates, especially whose major asset is their home. The value of the home is divided up between so many beneficiaries that the value to any one person is too small to make a real difference in their life.  This results in what is commonly called a “tangled title.” Beneficiaries have little interest in investing in a house from which they receive no benefit. The cooperation and resources needed to maintain or sell the home is next to impossible with multiple heirs with equal rights. The stalemate often leads to an accumulation of tax liens and a forced sale of the home. 


In the end, “families lose assets over the generations instead of building up wealth.” 

This problem is not without a solution.


The good news is, according to the authors of the study, that wills seem to mitigate the problems by preserving the value of assets passed from generation to generation. Wills are particularly valuable when the major bequeathable assets, such as a home, would likely decline in value from being split among multiple beneficiaries, as default laws tend to do. The challenge is that minorities are less likely to have wills and report lower expected probabilities of leaving even modest bequests. This is consistent with a larger downward trend in the number of households with a will. According to Gallup, less than half of Americans have a will.    

Perhaps the most surprising finding in the study is the potential impact of having a will has on a person’s expectations of leaving a bequest. Black and Hispanic decedents with a will are more likely to not only expect to leave a bequest for their families but also to actually meet their bequest goal. 


“Wills seem to be helpful in matching reality with expectation.” 

There are indications that preparing a will can cause a person to shift their behaviors throughout life, such as lowering consumption to guarantee that bequest goals are met.   


Increasing the number of Black and Hispanic households with wills begins with understanding the reasons why people do not prepare a will. Many perceive the process as extremely formal and complex. Some cite simple procrastination. We believe two other reasons are affordability and a lack of understanding of the adverse impact that not having a will can have on one’s family.


LegalShield makes preparing a basic will affordable for everyone and in doing so, has the real potential to mitigate the racial wealth gap. They provide easy access to a team of experienced estate planning attorneys in every state. Last year, LegalShield attorneys handled over 260,000 estate planning requests for services for Americans. Members of the LegalShield community can have a will prepared in about a week without ever having to come to an attorney’s office or pay expensive fees.


Fiffik Law Group is proud to be part of the effort to close the racial wealth gap. Our experienced team of estate planning attorneys prepares wills, trusts and powers of attorney for more than 1,000 families annually. We make it easy to get started to protect your family. Your family is your most important asset. What are you waiting for?

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