When Teyonna Ridgeway’s mother fell ill and eventually passed away in March, she was devastated.
“It was a nightmare,” Ridgeway said. “She was in and out of the hospital and toward the last few months I told her you have to have this document.”
During those last months, Ridgeway and her mother sat down and created a health or medical directive. It appointed Ridgeway as her mother’s healthcare agent and put her in charge of making medical decisions on her behalf.
“Because I had this healthcare directive, because I had put life insurance on my mother five years ago, though I was so devastated that she was transitioning, I did have some level of peace that I had prepared for this moment,” Ridgeway said. ” I knew exactly what to do.”
Black Women Will
Ridgeway was in the perfect position to advise her mother because she has been working for years to assist other Black women on end of life planning. She works as the marketing director for the non-profit organization, Black Women Will. It focuses on estate planning and the creation of wills and health directives.
“Not just helping women to get their wills done but guiding them through the process of making the decisions that will influence their wills and then we really pride ourselves on shifting the energy from morbid to motivational,” Ridgeway explained.
The organization has a yearly Black Women Will event in Atlanta where lawyers and experts help attendees plan out their estates, wills and directives. Ridgeway says this type of work is especially important for Black women.
“It’s important for Black women because we so often are the leaders in our communities and families and we need to take a step back and make sure that we have these documents in place because if something happens to us then it’s outlining who is the next person in charge,” Ridgeway explained. “Because we often have a way we want to have things done we need to take the time to do this so that the power of the decisions are in the right person’s hands.”
She says people often misinterpret what goes into a will thinking that if they don’t have a lot of assets, they don’t need to create one. Ridgeway says that is simply untrue.
“With the will, if you have a house, outlining who’s going to get that house. Or if you have a car, who’s going to get that. In addition to if you have minor children and something happens to you, unfortunately, or happens to you and your partner, who will be the guardian of your minor children?” she said.
Ridgeway advises that Black women take three steps to begin the process of planning their estate and creating a will.
Steps to Start Planning
Set a Deadline
Start by marking a date three months in the future on your calendar. By that day, make sure you have started the process of planning your estate and will. Ridgeway says in those 3 months, women should work to find an attorney and start thinking through how they would like their assets divided.
“Literally put it on your calendar,” Ridgeway advised. “Set a deadline to make the comittment to yourself that you’re going to do this. You’re not going to procrastinate and you can check this off your list.”
Check with Employer
Estate planning, especially if you are trying to set up a trust, can be expensive. For that reason, Ridgeway suggests checking with your employer to see if any type of assistance, legal or otherwise, is offered.
“Check with your companies HR department to see if there are any opportunities to complete your will using your employee benefits. The employee assistance programs that some companies offer, they may offer a portion of this support or finding an attorney,” Ridgeway said.
Black Women Will recommends checking with your companies HR department before reaching out to attorneys on your own just in case assistance is available through work.
Organize Assets and Accounts
Organizing your assets and accounts can feel like a lot of work. However, it’s integral to planning properly.
“This is kind of one of the meaty pieces that takes people out to be honest because it is thinking about what you own and it can feel a bit overwhelming.” Ridgeway said.
Black Women Will offers a free estate planning playbook to help. Ridgeway says the resource helps people outline their assets and accounts and think through who they want to inherit those.
DIY Planning Options
Ridgeway also advises that there are some planning options and steps that can be done on your own. While an attorney is recommended, online resources like Legal Zoom may be able to assist women looking for affordable alternatives to creating a simple will.
Ridgeway also encourages people to set up beneficiaries on their bank accounts. She says it is a generally simple process that can be done by contacting your bank yourself. Ridgeway says taking these early steps to start the process of planning are important not just to Black women but to the one’s they love as well.
“Life is going to happen and death is a part of the cycle of life,” Ridgeway said. “We can’t avoid it but we as Black women we’ll try to shift the conversation and narrative so it is more empowering. Ultimately you have to handle your business for yourself and your loved ones.”