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Building Generational Wealth Through Estate Planning: How to Apply for L.A. County’s ‘Leaving a Legacy’ Program

Only one-third of Americans have a will, with even lower figures in Black (23%) and Latino (18%) communities. The full impact of this problem is often only felt after a loved one passes away or when an adult with a disability or an older adult doesn’t have a Power of Attorney in place. 

Inglewood Park Cemetery. Photo by Jared Cowan for L.A. TACO.

Inglewood Park Cemetery. Photo by Jared Cowan for L.A. TACO.

Concerned about her family’s future, 66-year-old “Lucia” contacted Bet Tzedek to ask about free estate planning services. “Lucia” recently adopted her young grandson and wanted to make sure he and other loved ones would be taken care of after her death. Unfortunately, as Bet Tzedek’s legal team began working with her, “Lucia” was diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer, making her need to plan even more urgent.

Bet Tzedek created a trust for “Lucia,” ensuring that her house would seamlessly go to her daughter and grandson after her death. “Lucia” planned today for a better tomorrow, but many families in Los Angeles County miss the opportunity to protect their assets because of misconceptions about estate planning. 

Many think estate planning, such as wills, trusts, and other asset-transfer devices, is only for the wealthy. In reality, any asset, like a house, apartment, or car, can be factored into estate planning. It is a powerful tool that can ensure your assets are protected and passed down quickly to loved ones to help create generational wealth.

However, estate planning can be expensive. Some lawyers charge as much as $150.00 an hour, which many families can’t afford. Also, some families are not comfortable talking about death. It’s not an easy conversation and is frowned upon in some communities.

To better help families with estate planning, the Los Angeles County Center for Financial Empowerment, part of the Department of Consumer and Business Affairs (DCBA), has partnered with Bet Tzedek and St. John’s Community Health to create the Leaving a Legacy program. Leaving a Legacy provides eligible L.A. County residents, especially those who do not traditionally participate in estate planning, with free legal services such as drafting a will or creating a trust to ensure that families and loved ones have an opportunity to pass their assets down from generation to generation.

The urgent need for this program was even more evident during the COVID-19 pandemic. A 2022 survey released by Caring.com found that one out of every five Americans who died from COVID-19 had no estate plan in place, which causes even more stress and difficulties for grieving loved ones.

Only one-third of Americans have a will, with even lower figures in Black (26%) and Latino (18%) communities. The full impact of this problem is often only felt after a loved one passes away or when an adult with a disability or an older adult doesn’t have a Power of Attorney in place. 

When someone dies without a will, trust, or other advanced estate planning, their estate—including all their assets—goes through probate, which can be costly and lengthy. Probate costs can range from 3% to 8% of the total estate value, and these additional costs lower the value of the estate and the amount of the inheritance passed down. Additionally, if an older adult or adult with a disability doesn’t have Power of Attorney or other advanced planning directive, they could be placed in a conservatorship against their wishes. These legal challenges are both exhausting and confusing and even more difficult to navigate while grieving a loss. 

Leaving a Legacy helps eligible individuals with legal issues, including Estate Plans, Wills, Asset Preservation Actions, Support with Beneficiary Designations, Medi-Cal and Public Benefits Access/Preservations, Actions to Resolve Tangled Title, Actions for Asset Preservation, Powers of Attorney, Durable Powers of Attorney, and Supported Decision-Making Agreements.

Los Angeles County residents may qualify for this program if they are considered low-to-moderate income and live in the highest and highest-need areas of the County. To see if you or a loved one qualifies, visit dcba.lacounty.gov/leavingalegacy.

Learn more by joining a free estate planning workshop offered by DCBA, Bet Tzedek, and St. John’s. Find a list of workshops at dcba.lacounty.gov/calendar.

Bet Tzedek and St. John’s help those in their geographic service areas. Eligible residents living in Pacoima, Hollywood, Echo Park, South LA (MLK Hospital), South LA (Vernon/Main Central/Alameda), Wilmington, San Pedro, Angelino Heights (Macarthur Park), West Adams, Antelope Valley/Lancaster, Watts, Hawthorne, Lawndale, and Near USC should contact Bet Tzedek at bettzedek.org/leavingalegacy to complete an intake form. Those residents can also reach out to Bet Tzedek via email at AdvancePlanning@bettzedek.org.

Eligible residents living near East Los Angeles, Boyle Heights, El Monte, Bell Gardens, South Los Angeles, Lennox, Westmont, Athens, Compton, and Southwest Los Angeles should contact St. John’s Community Health at sjch.org/legal-services/#legalsp to complete an intake form.

DCBA’s Leaving a Legacy program is a free service designed to empower individuals and help them cement their legacy, protect loved ones, and ensure their wishes are honored after their death so more families like “Lucia’s” can have a plan in place that protects future generations.

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