The Right Estate of Mind

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Death is a topic we often avoid because, well, it’s scary to talk about. But it is an inevitable part of life, and it’s important to have some sort of posthumous plan for the sake of your family and friends. A properly planned estate is the only guarantee that your loved ones won’t be left in a legal and financial mess after you pass on. 

To conquer such a heavy and complicated topic, we needed some assistance from New York-based educator and artist Dyalekt. You can catch him co-hosting Brunch and Budget  (a podcast about personal finances), teaching the youth about financial literacy through rap, and speaking at finance-focused conferences.

Life Lessons from Aretha & Prince

Dyalekt: There are a number of reasons why you should have an estate plan, but the real simple one is to make sure the things you have can be shared and passed down, not just so your family will stop fighting over it, but so your family can get it. If you don’t have an estate plan, then all of your stuff is going to probate court, and that is a nightmare. Even if your spouse or your dependents do end up with it, there’s a whole bunch of lawyers who are taking a huge chunk of that money first.

It made me really sad when I found that both Aretha Franklin and Prince died without estates. They had no will, no estate plans, nothing. What’s amazing is that these two in particular were not just famous rich people, they were philanthropists. Take Aretha Franklin–if there was a black power movement or a young arts movement going on, she was there to put money behind it and help look out for people. Prince put a ridiculous amount of money in schools. When they died, all of that suddenly stopped, which is tragic because those are things that they believed in fervently.

People think that if you’re not rich, that means you don’t have an estate. When you think of the word “estate,” you think about some fancy large place with a gate, and you think, “Oh, if I don’t have $5 million, then it’s not really an estate.” No, if you have stuff, you have an estate.

Building Generational Wealth

Dyalekt: I know a lawyer who is an amazing lady and has been putting forth the idea that having an estate plan is the most important way to make sure that we build and maintain generational wealth. It’s funny because it’s kind of a revolutionary concept, even though it’s really simple. 

I think in terms of us being afraid of the inevitable, of growing old and dying, but when you’re talking about money, careers, jobs–leaving a legacy, if you will–what is important to us is making sure the things that we built in our life don’t wither and die as we are unable to physically keep up with it.

Whether that’s money for your family–so that even though you had to work 80-hour weeks doing the things that you didn’t want to do– your kids or their kids can go to college and figure out the stuff they want to do. Or maybe now they have enough that they’ve got a cushion where if they have a Facebook-level idea, they can drop out of college and take those risks. Those are the steps that you’re building.

It’s great to be able to start thinking of that early. I don’t think that we should be at retirement age or in retirement when we start thinking about our estate plan. Creating timelines can help us make good decisions to lead up to them.

How to Start Planning Your Estate

Dyalekt: The toughest part is getting started. How do we do the first part of it? How do we decide? Who am I giving power attorney to? Who am I putting in my will? What guardians do I need to make? What insurance decisions do I need to make?

It can be really overwhelming to do it by yourself. Bring in the people who can hold you down through fears and worries. Don’t do estate planning by yourself.

If you have parents and you don’t have an estate plan, and your parents don’t have an estate plan, feel free to pull the whole “you’re my parent” trick and say, “Hey, parents, I need an estate plan. Can you help me figure out how to make an estate plan? Oh, you don’t have one either? Maybe we can make it together.”

And parents, feel free to pull the same old sympathy trick from the other way around. “Oh, what’s that baby? You don’t have an estate plan yet? Well, you need to get an estate plan together.”

Similar to when I was talking about the spouse stuff, be vulnerable and do it together. That way, you can say it out loud. The funny thing about naming stuff–if you want to get super mystical and metaphysical–is that so many religions and practices talk about when you name stuff, you can take control of it.

We shouldn’t think about naming the things that we’re afraid of as if they’re the boogeyman and they’re going to come and get us. We name them, so that we can take control over them. We take control over them so that our decisions can be better and more clear than our instincts. That way we can take care of ourselves, for the generation behind us, and for the generation ahead of us, which creates the world that we want.

Life Insurance: What Are You Protecting?

Dyalekt: One that I want to talk about is life insurance, because insurance isn’t just a blanket that goes on top of every type of estate. When it comes to insurance, think about what you are trying to protect. That’s what you need money and insurance for. What do you need to protect? What needs to be taken care of after you’re gone? For example, if you have a younger kid, you need 20-ish years of insurance to make sure there is some money to take care of that kid in case something happens to you.

Do you and your partner have a house? If both of your incomes go to paying the mortgage and you know that if you were to suddenly disappear, they wouldn’t be able to take care of the mortgage, then you need to make sure that you have enough insurance to pay off that mortgage.

When you ask yourself what you’re protecting, it feels less dirty or greedy. It’s not some weird award. And it’s not something dirty or underhanded. It’s just you looking out for your loved ones who can’t necessarily take care of themselves without you around.

Choosing Power of Attorney

Dyalekt: A power of attorney allows someone to manage your financial matters on your behalf in case you’re not able to handle them on your own. When it comes to a power of attorney, you want to think about what type of power of attorney you’re going to have. Do you want to have springing power of attorney, where it’s only in force if something happens to you? Are you naming a durable power of attorney, which is in force as soon as you sign the papers.

Choosing a Health Care Proxy

Dyalekt: The other thing that you need to make sure of is that you have a healthcare proxy.

A health care proxy is a little different from a power of attorney. While a power of attorney allows someone to be able to make your financial decisions, a health care proxy allows someone to make your health decisions on your behalf. To set up a health care proxy, it’s as simple as Googling “health care proxy” and your state, and there’s a free form you can fill out and submit.

It’s very simple to fill out these forms out and what’s great about it is, once you do it, it’s done. And that’s awesome, because we don’t want to think about these things. It sucks thinking about death and dying, but it’s much worse to leave your loved ones trying to figure out what your wishes might have been.

Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way

Dyalekt: It’s important that you have an actual will because people shouldn’t have to wonder what to do with your assets after you die—and that is the crux of poverty.

Funerals cost a lot of money, kind of similar to weddings. It’s the worst feeling when you lose a family member– I’ve been in this situation from a number of different angles–and can’t afford to take care of them. The funeral might not feel like the most important thing in the world to plan right now, but for many of us, it’s important for our loved ones to able to let go and get closure and not worry about the financial side of it.

If you can’t grieve, if you’re busy fighting over who’s paying for what, that is the worst thing that you can leave your family. If we can make sure we take care of the finances, then I think we can be okay.

I just had a kid, so I’ve got to go in and change my estate documents now, but what’s great is once it already exists, it’s way less stressful to just make an adjustment. And in that, it becomes the opposite of shame. You can become proud that when you need to make adjustments to your will, it’s because you have more to share.

About MC Dyalekt

Dyalekt is an MC, educator, and playwright, usually all at once. He is based in Brooklyn, NY and has been a part of the NYC Hip Hop scene since 2003. He toured his first solo work, Square Peg Syndrome, throughout Europe, which led to him being named to The Public’s Emerging Writers Group in 2013. The album/one man show is also a 6-week curriculum on identity and literacy, piloted in 2008 in his hometown, St. Croix, USVI. He is the Director of Pedagogy for Pockets Change, a Hip Hop + finance youth organization, and has taught thousands of students. His most recent work, the Museum of Dead Words, is a Hip Hop theater show on communication and empathy in the age of the internet. He is a podcast host for the Race & Wealth Network and keynotes on how art, culture, and media are used to perpetuate racial wealth inequality.

Opinions & perspectives expressed in this article are those of the guest contributor and not necessarily Pocket Your Dollars.