As they always do, memories of the winter holiday season are quickly fading, as my email is flooded with messages about keeping resolutions, new lawyer marketing tactics, and the latest “ABCDEF… Trust” to tell clients about. (Estate Planning attorneys love our acronyms!) But there’s one memory I am determined to keep.
During the “holidaze,” I catch-up with my reading for pleasure and one of the catch-up books I read was the mesmerizing, bittersweet, poignant, non-fiction narrative, “The Warmth of Other Suns” by Isabel Wilkerson. The reading resonated deeply as it retold stories about African Americans traversing from Jim Crow South to the subtle but damning discrimination of the North and West.
Particularly, being just 1 generation removed from the Great Migration’s heroes and heroines who found themselves settling in Chicago, I was, like many readers, warmed when I could say my Aunt lived on the same street as Ida Mae.
Reading Ms. Wilkerson’s work took me simultaneously far from and close to my practice. (And I was supposed to be on vacation!)
Almost inhaling every page, grateful for not having to respond to emails, I hung my head in sympathy for George who, but for misdirected anger and lack of self-discipline, would have achieved so much more. I knew a George.
And I nodded, indeed, as I travelled through the book with Dr. Foster, who ventured from the community spreading the fact that “yes, we can” to communities that dare us to try. Indeed, he understood that we, African American professionals, must not turn our backs but must reach forward to serve our community regardless of the economic gap that exists between us and our community family. Indeed, we must reach back and forward with deliberate and sometimes, an unnerving strive for perfection, even though individuals in our own community may not believe we are as skillful as those of other cultures. We hold our heads high, reaching back and marching forward because, in fact, we may be more skilled and knowledgeable because we had to (and often, still do) work twice as hard, under twice the constraints, to pay twice the costs, to receive half the pay, and when you work that hard, you learn a lot more than the average above-average student.
And at the end of the holiday break, I returned to my email flood, packages of supplies, impossible calendar, and a myriad of phone messages but with a renewed and refreshed understanding about my law practice. Indeed, a legally sound financial foundation and distribution scheme is important; and equally important is the “this is how we got here and why and how some of us didn’t and why we must also never forget their journey” legacy.
Much in estate planning and wealth-building is written about the elimination of family wealth by the third generation. But, just because something happened in the past, doesn’t mean it must occur again.
More importantly, estate planning isn’t just about helping gazillionaires save on taxes.
Consider that children and, therefore, families often benefit from the musculature that is strengthened when elders share the trials and tribulations and exemplify the fortitude that propels the family forward. They learn lessons of perseverance, delayed gratification, and respect for self and others; they grow to enjoy working for work itself and not just for the compensation; and they become community leaders and “unsung heroes” because of this almost impervious integrity breathed into them by their parents and grandparents. They learn compassion and empathy.
I often smile as our estate planning world buzzes so about how to assist families who no longer need estate tax planning as a component of their estate plans. What to do? What to do?
As an African American, female, estate planning attorney, I’ve known what to do for a while: help people legally forward on their most important legacy – the family journey, the who, the how, and the why of “the dream.”