This is the second installment in our series around the topic of “Growing and Maintaining Black wealth through sound legal strategies and problem solving.” Let’s continue with a discussion about Assets.
Growing and Maintaining Black Wealth: Watch your Ass-ets
“Gator Boots, with the pimped out Gucci suit
Ain’t got no job, but I stay sharp
Can’t pay my rent, cause all my money’s spent
but thats OK, cause I’m still fly
Got a quarter tank gas in my new E-class
but that’s alright cause I’m gon’ ride
got everything in my mama’s name
but I’m hood rich da dada dada da”
Even though this song came out in 2002, it’s still a club banger that many of us get excited about as soon as the first beat drops. And most of us will shout the lyrics at the top of our lungs because it’s just one of those songs that brings joy to our dancing hearts. Raise your hand if you started bobbing your head a little while reading the lyrics above. Some of us relate to those lyrics a lot. My friend, in a bid to save money, decided to change his car insurance to get the cheapest car insurance quote possible. Money Expert helped him out tremendously. But getting car insurance can be really expensive for people though, there are some deals out there which have been designed to help people when it comes to getting car insurance. For example, you could check out this cheap monthly car insurance with no deposit.
Big Tymers and many other rap artists brag about their wealth over hypnotic beats, easily impressing listeners with what they have. Chains that cost a condo. Expensive cars with even more expensive add-ons. Couture fashion. And there is some validity to what they’re doing. We all should be able to list out what we have, how much it is worth, and whether it is in line with our life goals and beyond.
Have you ever stopped to wonder what your list of assets would be if, per chance, you decided to rap about it or brag a little? Have you ever wondered while listening to the rappers bragging about their purported wealth, “how liquid is [insert bragging rapper’s name]” and, more importantly “how liquid am I”?
Knowing what you have and what it is worth could possibly impress others. However, in the context of growing your wealth and estate planning, it is critical that you are actually able to list your assets as fluidly as Lil Wayne, Jay-Z, and the rest. At a minimum, you should:
- be able to list everything that make up your assets;
- know the individual and total value of your assets and the type of ownership; and
- know what will happen to each asset when you pass away.
If you know all of these things about your assets, you are positioned to maximize the power to make your assets do the most for you and for those you plan to give them to when you pass away. If you do not know what you have, what it is worth, and what will happen to it when you pass away, then you just might be wasting a lot of hard work and hard earned money.
The focus of this article is on creating an inventory that identifies the assets that make up your estate, their value, and whether you need to make some adjustments or additions to your assets in order for you to develop an estate that meets your needs during your lifetime and meets your goals for when you pass away. Although there is basic discussion on the different types of assets that can make up your estate, you should make the time to do additional research to get a full understanding of each of these. This includes doing research online but also meeting with professionals who have solid, reliable knowledge about different financial instruments and financial planning. One feature of financial planning that many people do not quite realise the importance of is equity release. Equity release is a financial product for people aged 55 to 95 which allows you to release some of the cash (equity) tied up in the value of your home. To release equity from your home, you need to get expert advice from a qualified equity release adviser. You can actually calculate your equity by using something like this equity release calculator, just to make sure your finances are in the state they should be.
You first want to list everything you own, how much each item is worth, and the beneficiaries of each item. Again, an estate is everything you own from real property (house) and personal property (cash, accounts, deejay collection, and etc.). To get you started on your inventory, we provide a worksheet you can download. Link
Most people’s estates also include a combination of some or all of the following:
- Savings Accounts
- Checking Account
- Term Deposit Account
- Life Insurance
- Retirement Plans
- Business Interests
- Notes Receivable
Let’s take a more in-depth look at some of the financial vehicles above, because it is important to be clear on what you have and how it operates.
Term Deposit Account— This is a cash investment with a financial institution such as a bank that gives you an agreed rate of interest over a fixed period of time. A common term deposit account is a CD (certificate of deposit).
Life Insurance— Life insurance can be a significant part of an estate plan. Life insurance policies come in a variety of forms (e.g. term, whole, and universal), but the basic function of a life insurance policy is to provide a cash payment at the death of the life insured. This payment is known as a death benefit.
The death benefit from a life insurance policy has numerous advantages and it takes careful planning to ensure that your life insurance is doing for you what it is intended to do. A major benefit of life insurance is to provide liquidity for your beneficiaries. In other words, it gives your beneficiaries cash and often it is soon after your death, which can be very useful, if not essential, to a surviving spouse and children. The death benefit is typically not taxable as income to the beneficiaries and it is paid directly to the beneficiaries rather than being paid to the estate of the deceased, so long as beneficiaries are listed.
Other than a will, life insurance may be the best and only financial tool a person of modest means needs in their estate plan. Regardless of the policy owner’s means, it is critical to have a comprehensive understanding and strategy with your life insurance or the benefit can be lost.
Retirement Plans— As with life insurance, there are various types of retirement plans that you may have or that you will consider getting. Baby boomers and older generations often rely on Social Security, which is a government mandated plan, and pensions (an employer-sponsored plan profit sharing plan). Nowadays there are new, more robust retirement plans. For example, a 401(k) is an employer-sponsored retirement plan and most employers will match a percentage of what you contribute to your plan. Each year you can contribute up to $18,000 of your income before taxes are taken out, per federal law. Nonprofit and government employees usually have a 403(b) or 457 plan, respectively. You can also establish an Individual Retirement Plan (IRA or Roth IRA) on your own and there is a maximum amount that you can contribute each year. And if you leave your employer, you can roll your employer sponsored plan into your IRA.
Business Interests— Whether you have a side hustle as a deejay or your main gig is your own business, know what your business is worth. More specifically, know what your share of the business is worth. Also, have clear instructions for what happens to your business or share of the business when you pass away. Should it be dissolved? Do you want to leave it to someone? Ideally, any business interest should not be compromised by your death undermining the effort and money invested in it. If you have a business partner(s), you should maintain life insurance policies on each other’s life and have a buy-sell agreement, so your interest in the business is not compromised when your partner passes away.
Notes Receivable— This is a written promise to receive money from another person on or by a set date. The note formalizes a loan you make to someone and it is an asset. It is important to have any loan you make to someone put in writing and to use an attorney to draft this agreement to ensure your interests should the debtor file for bankruptcy, die, or disagree with the terms at a later date. Notes receivable can also be passed on to your heirs.
After you have listed and determined the value of your assets, add them up to see the total value. You might find yourself impressed with what you have or you might realize that you need to make some changes to either grow your estate or to make sure what you leave behind is suitable for the loved ones you leave behind. Liquidity comes to mind again. Liquidity is an important and often overlooked characteristic of one’s assets. A basic way to determine your liquidity is to find out how much easily accessible money you have in the form of cash and equivalents, which you can do on your own or you may to speak to financial professionals to get the number.
Also, take a look at your debt and ask similar questions about your debt obligations as you do for your assets. How much is each debt? What happens to the debt when I die? How does it affect my potential heirs and beneficiaries? Keep in mind the assets that will go directly to the beneficiaries you named such as life insurance. Also, certain student loan debt is forgiven when you pass away, i.e. it does not become a debt of your estate.
Nominate beneficiaries. Many of the assets discussed in this article are set up so that you can nominate beneficiaries and alternate beneficiaries to receive the assets directly when you pass away. It is critical that you nominate beneficiaries, plus alternate beneficiaries, on any account that you allow you to do so. Not nominating beneficiaries plus alternate beneficiaries can and will likely undermine your entire estate plan. In most states, if you fail to or intentionally do not nominate beneficiaries, the asset will go to your estate and be used first to pay the costs of administering your estate and then your debts. Only after those obligations are paid for will the money be received by your loved ones.
Do not rely solely on employer-provided life insurance and retirement plans. These may not be sufficient for your family’s needs and they often do not continue after you leave a place of employment.
Do regular check-ups. Regularly check in on your assets to ensure that you have the coverage you need; that they are growing to meet your goals; and that the beneficiaries are who you need or want them to be. Annual check-ups and life milestones, such as family changes, retirement or changes in health, are good times to do a check-up too.
Develop a plan unique to your needs. It is not uncommon for people to follow the financial advice of their parents or friends. Although they can provide helpful advice, you must pay attention to your unique circumstances. Many baby boomers would advise putting your assets in a trust. Trusts are complicated and expensive. One of the greatest benefits of a trust is avoiding estate taxes and you currently need to have an estate close to $5 million to be concerned about estate taxes. Likewise, if you are single and have no children, your financial goals can be very different. Life insurance may not play a major role and the money you would use for life insurance premiums can be targeted to financial vehicles with greater growth potential than life insurance. You can also consider leaving your assets to your alma mater or a non-profit.
Don’t let debt undermine the value of your estate. Many people prioritize paying off their debt paid during their lifetime and when they pass away. Having no debt or keeping debt low certainly gives you more financial freedom. However, this is not a reality for most Americans, especially for people with student loan or mortgage debt. It is possible, though, to grow wealth in spite of debt. In order to do this, you need a plan and this plan involves a good estate planning attorney, a good CPA specializing in taxes, and good financial professionals. These professionals will help you build a strategy to grow wealth and sufficiently address debt to meet your individual needs.
A good estate planning attorney will assist you with creating an asset protecting estate plan. The cost for this is minimal compared to what you could lose to paying off your debt. A good CPA can assist you with tax planning strategies that allow you to put more of your income towards growth and reducing your tax obligations based on your debt repayment. Then financial professionals can address your specific circumstances and provide advice on financial vehicles that work for you.
Developing a team of professionals to aid you will likely require a lot of work on your part in getting referrals, interviewing people, and doing research. This effort is needed and in the long run, benefits are priceless. Just remember: your ultimate goal should be growing enough wealth to take care of yourself while you are living and to take care of you any loved ones you leave behind or building a legacy.
Consider inexpensive life insurance policies to cover some debt. Inexpensive life insurance policies can cover some of your debt at your death or the death of a co-borrower. Your car loan lender may offer a policy that pays off your vehicle loans. If you have student loan debt, find out what happens to your student loan debt when you die. It may make sense to get an inexpensive policy to pay off the debt if you have a co-borrower. For example, it may make sense for you and a co-borrower on student loans to get policies each other’s life to pay off the loans when one of you dies. The same holds true for business loans and home loans. With student loans, though, you and your co-borrower should also seek removal of the non-student co-borrower as soon as possible, which is usually a few years into repayment of the loans. Many lenders will not tell you that you can do that. You have to be proactive.
Balance your funeral wishes with transferring your wealth regardless of its size. Historically and presently, many people have “funeral insurance” which is either a standard life insurance policy for which the policy owner wants the death benefit used to pay for their funeral or it is a policy very similar to a life insurance policy that will direct the death benefit to the funeral service provider to pay for funeral expenses. The difference is that with the standard life insurance policy, the beneficiary is legally under no obligation to use the money to pay the funeral expenses. It is merely a promise. In either case, if you have or plan to have a life insurance policy to pay for your funeral expenses and even your debts, consider whether doing so is really helpful to those you leave behind. Traditional funerals are expensive. The average funeral is in the ballpark of $6,000. Could $6,000 make a difference in the lives of your loved ones if it could be used for something other than your funeral? There are many options less expensive than a traditional funeral. Some options are better for the wallet and the earth. Go green!
Hopefully by now you feel encouraged to take an in-depth look at your assets. The goal is not to be able to brag like the rappers or even to see if you have something to be proud about. Regardless of your asset level, whether it is modest or very high, it is important to know what you have, how it operates, how it will transfer on your death, who it will go to, and the various scenarios of what can happen with all that you have worked hard to earn.
At the very least, you need to have a basic understanding of the financial assets you may have. Then, try to take it one step further and find out if what you have meets your needs and goals. Do you have the right type of assets? Also, find out if your assets are set up to meet your goals (i.e., have you nominated beneficiaries and alternate beneficiaries on accounts that allow it?). And once you have taken a good look at your assets, work with your loved ones to do the same by sharing this article and even sharing what has worked for you.
– Contributed by Mavis Gragg
Mavis Gragg is an attorney at the Gragg Law Firm, PLLC in Durham, North Carolina where she specializes in estate planning and estate administration. She is very passionate about maintaining and growing Black wealth through sound legal strategies and problem solving. When she is not being a justice girl, she can be found at an art gallery, trotting the globe, or on the dance floor.