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Austin, Garfield Park, North Lawndale

How To Keep The Family House In The Family: Free Workshop Aims To Teach Estate Planning To Lawndale Neighbors

The North Lawndale Homeowners Association hopes that by having tough conversations about death, it can help the neighborhood build wealth that gets passed on from generation to generation.

Greystones line a Lawndale street.
John Morris/Chicago Patterns
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LAWNDALE — Karen Castleberry says that people in Lawndale are often eager to talk about their journey into homeownership, one of the greatest accomplishments a person can achieve.

What they are less likely to want to discuss, however, is the process of passing a home on to the next generation.

“People don’t have the mortality type conversation,” Castleberry said. “You go out and you have a dream to purchase a home. Your next dream is not going to be — when I die what am I going to do with my home? But somewhere after you sign for that mortgage, you’ve got to have a thought or conversation of what do I do next.”

And so Castleberry teamed up with other members of the North Lawndale Homeowners Association, the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council and Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24th) to make that conversation a bit easier.

Together, they planned the Family House workshop for July 13, aimed at empowering Lawndale families with the tools to protect their assets with estate planning strategies.

The morning half of the workshop will share information on asset protection, including sessions on creating a financial estate, navigating reverse mortgages, avoiding probate after a death and estate planning. The afternoon will give attendees the opportunity to meet with paralegals to work on creating valid legal documents that can be used as a final will or estate plan.

“At the end of the workshop you will work your claim, doing whatever you decide to do. You could walk away with a will, you can walk away with power of attorney for health and for financial,” Castleberry said.

Scott said he got involved because his office receives calls periodically from families looking for help protecting their assets.

“I’ve had several people coming in about the loss of a loved one, and what should they do with their home. Even when they’re trying to change the water bill into their name when they haven’t done that estate planning,” he said.

While the alderman and his staff do their best to accommodate these types of requests for support, he said it is critical for homeowners to take precautionary measures and start talking about the future of their assets long before a potential dispute arises.

“We try to get them help pro bono. But the opportunity to workshop about homeownership and estate planning and what you need to do to make sure that you leave your family members in a better place is something that is greatly needed, not just in the North Lawndale 24th Ward community but across the city of Chicago and in the African American community at large,” he said.

In Castleberry’s experience, neighbors and family members that didn’t have a plan in place sometimes end up losing some of their their wealth after a death in the family. One of the most common stories she hears is about predatory schemes that take advantage of families that don’t have the financial literacy and real estate know-how to protect themselves. Her drive for helping to create the workshop was wanting to equip her neighborhood with the skills to protect themselves.

“[They] preyed upon people in the black and brown communities who had no experience, no knowledge, no information about estate planning or anything like that and they talk them into these reverse mortgages … and people ended up losing their wealth.”

As a real estate agent and fellow member of the Lawndale Homeowners association, Wilonda Cannon said the hardest thing for her is seeing a home fall out of the family simply because the younger generation isn’t interested in taking on the responsibilities of homeownership.

“We see families, you know, that grew up in neighborhoods together. An elder will pass away, and then some of the younger adults who may not live there even more, they don’t have the same sense of pride or the same sense of ownership that the elder once had. Because they’ve kind of gone on and done other things with their lives,” Cannon said.

Cannon remembers an instance when a young woman put her family home that once belonged to her grandmother up for sale for below market rate. Cannon recalls that the woman saw owning the home, the lawn and maintaining the aging house as a burden, so she sold the house for around $20,000.

“They could have been an owner. Put a little bit of money into that house, and that house would be worth double what it was a few years ago today. And they would be living rent-free. But they were just tired of it, they thought it was an eyesore, they just wanted to get rid of it,” Wilonda said. “That broke my heart.”

The Family House Workshop, which Cannon and Castleberry both hope to be only one part of an ongoing conversation about estate planning in Lawndale, is an opportunity for younger folks to get involved in learning more about homeownership. According to Cannon, much of the burden falls on the younger generation to initiate the difficult conversations on inheritance. She says a key piece of the equation is helping young people to understand exactly why it is so important to make a plan to build generational wealth.

“With every generation in the black community, probably until recently, we’re starting over. So I don’t have the liberty of standing on my parent’s shoulders, to pull from a pool of wealth to build a passive income or anything like that,” Cannon said. “The importance of building generational wealth is when the children come after you they don’t have to start over.”

Likewise, after seeing challenges that arose in her own family after her father and uncle each passed away without a legally valid will, Castleberry believes that all homeowners should implement an estate plan not only for their own wellbeing, but also to create a stronger, more resilient North Lawndale. She says that this type of planning is an opportunity to keep wealth within the community, and to prevent gentrification by making sure that the homes across Lawndale stay under the ownership of Lawndale families who have lived in the community for decades.

“Oftentimes, when it’s not dealt with, the property becomes abandoned and decays, and that’s destroying the fabric of our community, having another vacant building, or vacant lot, another eyesore. Giving it an owner who actually is a descendant of whomever, that grows our community. That keeps our community black, it keeps our community intact.”

The Family House Workshop will take place at 10 a.m. at UCAN, 3605 W. Fillmore St. For more information or to register for the free workshop, click here.

Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.

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