Experts say homeownership and estate planning can help close the wealth gap, which can protect assets for future generations.
KEY WEST – A home is often the most valuable asset a family can own. It serves as a wealth-generating opportunity for current and future generations as the home’s value appreciates over time. Yet, for hundreds of thousands of people who inherited their land and homes from family members, these assets could be at risk.
Many families have experienced problems with properties that have been passed down without a will or estate plan. These properties are referred to as heirs’ property.
If the deed for a property is in the name of the deceased relative and a will does not exist, it results in a “fractured” or “tangled” title shared among all multiple family members or “heirs.” This makes it difficult for heirs to maintain and manage the property in several ways, like securing a loan or selling the property. Additionally, heirs’ property owners are often cut off from accessing governmental repair and rebuilding programs and property tax relief programs.
A key driver of heirs’ property is a lack of formal estate planning. Unfortunately, this issue disproportionately impacts Black and Latino Americans. According to a 2023 national survey from Caring.com, only 29% of Black and 23% of Hispanic respondents had a will or other estate planning document, compared to 39% of white respondents.
“In some families, money, and particularly estate planning, is a taboo subject, but it needs to be discussed. Assets can easily be lost if steps aren’t taken to protect them,” said Stacy Spann, head of Housing Access and Affordability Philanthropy at Wells Fargo. “One of the ways we can help close the wealth gap in many communities is by empowering people to maintain home ownership from one generation to the next.”
Here are some tips to get you started:
1. Start planning today. You do not have to be older or wealthy to create an estate plan.
2. Take an inventory of all your assets.
3. Create a will. You will want to provide specific instructions on your wishes for all your assets.
4. Designate beneficiaries. You can set up beneficiary designations for your banking and investment accounts, personal property and real estate.
Wells Fargo’s Heirs Property Initiative is providing $3.6 million in grant funding to 20 organizations across the country to support work addressing issues of fractured or tangled titles.
Housing and legal assistance nonprofits are offering free access to resources designed to keep families in their homes and on their land so that homeownership is preserved for future generations. These resources include legal assistance for people who need help creating a will or who are already facing heirs’ property challenges, as well as expert advice about tangled titles, estate planning, real estate taxes and more.
Beyond building generational wealth, taking steps to protect it is essential. With proper planning, diligence and time, you can pass down assets to loved ones that will open the door to new opportunities and advantages.
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