Aretha Franklin and the Psychology of Black Folks’ Lack of Legacy Building

News has hit that once again, a high-profile black entertainer has died and left absolutely no instructions. Aretha Franklin, who died of pancreatic cancer, left four sons and no will. At a net worth of $80 million, how soon before her sons be at one another’s throats over how the money gets distributed, and how much money will the attorneys collect for the years of probate?

What is it with black folks? Do we not think we’re going to die? And when we die, why is it that we don’t seem to have a collective care about the situations in which we leave our children? Now of course not all black families are like this–my parents had wills, life insurance, advanced medical directives. But they didn’t really talk that much to us about how important it was. Insurance, investments, wills and trusts didn’t really come into my understanding until I met my husband, who grew up in a wealthy New England town surrounded by other wealthy white people. In his world, it is absolutely unheard of not to have these discussions with family.

Look, there’s no doubt that Ms. Franklin KNEW when her disease was terminal. With an $80 million dollar coffer, it wouldn’t have been much of a burden to call on an attorney to come to her home so she could dictate her last will and testament.

I sense that the lack of legacy-building and investing in our futures after we are gone stems from the fractured families that occurred during slavery. The idea of “passing on a name” is virtually meaningless to many of us. We have this attitude of “I’ve got mine, you’re gonna have to worry about getting yours” that even happens with the children we claim to love. It is particularly cruel that Mr. Franklin would leave her legacy of four sons to potentially bicker and fight and forever damage their fraternal relationship. It makes absolutely no sense!

Newsflash: WE ALL DIE!! Getting life insurance so that your children won’t be forced to penury if something happens to you isn’t invited some kind of weird, voodoo bad juju. Being flippant about not being worried about what happens to your money because when you’re dead you can’t spend it is extremely selfish and shortsighted.

Instead of railing against white supremacy, fight it by resisting how slavery left us uninterested in our legacies after we are gone. Ensure your children don’t have to fight with one another and enrich greedy attorneys who will seek to protract these legal fights as long as the billable hours keeps raking up?

So my next suggestion is a plug for one of our affiliate partners. If you’ve been moved enough to act on your family’s behalf without being robbed blind by attorneys, check out They offer a complete estate planning package. Unlike a will, a living trust lets your family bypass probate court—which saves everyone money, delay, and hassle. You don’t even have to leave your couch. Click here to create your will online right now.

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