By Portia Wood
A few months ago, I came across a gut-wrenching story of two esteemed faculty members at Johns Hopkins University, Drs. Nathan Connolly and Shani Mott. Their efforts to refinance their home revealed a harsh reality that many Black homeowners face: racial bias in home appraisals. After receiving a lowball valuation, they took matters into their hands. The result? By “Whitewashing” their home and having a White friend pose as the homeowner, they received a valuation that was almost $300,000 higher than the first. This story paints a bleak picture of the challenges in creating and preserving generational wealth, even when you’re educated and strategic.
I see it every day. Our Black and Brown communities are grappling silently with financial distress, often unaware of the magnitude of the storm ahead. That’s why my mother, Robin, and I have dedicated ourselves to the mission of securing and transferring families’ hard-earned wealth.
It’s disheartening to consider the growing racial wealth disparity in America. If we don’t act now, projections indicate the median net worth of Black Americans could plunge to zero by 2053. This isn’t just a statistic – it’s the potential reality of our future. But I refuse to let that be our story. At our firm, Wood Legal Group, LLP, we’re all in on guiding the Black, Latinx and LGBTQ communities. We show them how to preserve and transfer their legacies through tailored estate planning.
The lessons of history are stark. Insights like Nikole Hannah-Jones’ “1619 Project” reveal how systemic injustices have consistently stripped African Americans of generational wealth. The War on Drugs, the subprime mortgage crisis and– more recently– skewed appraisals and biased lending practices continue to eat away at our community’s financial stability. The pandemic, as we’ve all felt, deepened these cuts.
A concerning observation I’ve made is the limited use of trusts in our community to preserve and pass down wealth. The heart of this issue? A combination of limited financial literacy and a dire scarcity of advisors who genuinely understand our needs. To paint a clearer picture, just 2 percent of estate planning attorneys directly cater to communities of color.
But here’s the thing: the knowledge my mother and I bring to the table isn’t just for our community. It’s universal wealth wisdom. As I often share, we’re on the edge of America’s most monumental wealth transfers. If the Baby Boomers, who hold this vast wealth, don’t have proper plans in place, we risk seeing this fortune evaporate. Once gone, it’s nearly impossible to rebuild.
In this issue of the AFRO we invite you to explore with us the following topics:
- The persistent barriers to Black wealth
- Using estate planning and wills to pass down generational wealth
- The role of artificial intelligence in the finance industry
- How to instill good financial habits in children
- Black businesses and Black banks
To stress the gravity, let me share this: The U.S. is home to the fourth-largest number of children left orphaned by the pandemic. Far too many parents, possibly someone you know, or even you, are unprepared. Without established guardianship documents, your children could find themselves in protective custody until lengthy legal processes determine their fate.
I’m especially passionate about empowering women with this knowledge. After all, we’re often the final gatekeepers of our family wealth. We need to be ready and informed, but we also need to educate our children, spouses, extended family members and friends to improve financial literacy in the Black community.
Remember, an estate plan isn’t just about the inevitable future. It’s about the life you live now, and the legacy you desire for those following in your footsteps.
Now, more than ever, it’s time to act. Embark on this journey with us. Learn, be inspired, and take control. Attend our upcoming workshop, and let’s shape the future of generational wealth together. This is our legacy. This is our story.
Portia Wood is an estate attorney at Wood Legal Group, LLP. Wood is a fifth generation member of the AFRO’s founding family.