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Estate Planning for Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Families

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and Trust & Will celebrates by providing interesting insights from the estate planning perspective.

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Join us at Trust & Will as we celebrate Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islanders (AANHPI) and the diverse cultural tapestries woven by these communities in the United States.

Within these communities lie rich histories, traditions, unique challenges, and distinctive family dynamics that both inform and influence estate planning. While we celebrate, we also understand that at the same time it is essential to understand the nuances and complexities of estate planning within AANHPI households.

Who Makes Up the Asian Pacific American Population in the U.S.?

The term "Asian Pacific American" encompasses a broad spectrum of ethnicities, cultures, and languages. This group includes individuals with roots in East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, the APA population was the fastest-growing racial group in the United States between 2000 and 2022, with diverse backgrounds such as Chinese, Indian, Filipino, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, and many others.

In 2021, the Asian population in the U.S. was 24 million, while the Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander population was 1.7 million. Together, these communities make up nearly 26 million of the 341 million U.S. population, roughly 7.6 percent. 

APA Heritage Month: History & Context

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month celebrates the contributions, achievements, and history of Asian Pacific Americans in the United States.

It is celebrated in May each year, coinciding with two key milestones of the Asian diaspora:

  1. Arrival of the nation's first Japanese immigrants in May of 1843

  2. Chinese workers' pivotal role in building the transcontinental railroad, completed in May of 1869

What used to be Asian Pacific American Heritage Week in 1978, Congress established as a month long celebration in 1992.

Most recently, in 2021, a presidential proclamation was made to include Native Hawaiians in this celebration.

The history of Asian Pacific Americans in the United States is marked by both triumphs and challenges. From the early waves of immigrants who came seeking better opportunities to the struggles for civil rights and recognition, APA communities have made undeniable contributions to American culture, economy, and society. However, they have also faced discrimination, exclusion, and systemic barriers that continue to impact their experiences today.

Cultural or Political Barriers to Estate Planning

Estate planning can at times be challenging for Asian Pacific American families due to various cultural and political barriers. This is true for any communities that have experienced marginalization at any point in our nation's history, even today. These experiences have had and can have long-lasting adverse impacts that put individuals at a disadvantage.

Traditional beliefs and cultural norms surrounding wealth, inheritance, and family dynamics often influence estate planning decisions. In some cultures, openly discussing topics like death and inheritance is considered taboo or brings bad luck, leading to a reluctance to engage in estate planning conversations.

Additionally, language barriers and limited access to culturally competent legal and financial services can hinder effective estate planning. This is especially true for families who have immigrated to the U.S. more recently, and as such may not be familiar with the intricacies of U.S. estate laws and may struggle to navigate the complexities of the legal system. Moreover, the lack of awareness and outreach about available resources and the importance of estate planning can further exacerbate the problem.

Cultural Contexts to Consider when Estate Planning

Before we begin, it is important that one recognizes that families that belong to the Asian Pacific American and Native Hawaiian category do not all share identities. An individual may have their roots anywhere from Hanoi to Honolulu, having their own distinct, rich cultural history and identity that they may not share with their neighbor.

However, there are some cultural contexts that are often shared that can come into play in estate planning.

First, there's a strong emphasis on maintaining family cohesion and harmony, which can influence decisions about wealth distribution and inheritance. The concept of filial piety, or the respect and care for one's parents and elders, is deeply ingrained in many Asian cultures.

Multigenerational households are common. This can lead to a preference for collective decision-making processes over individual autonomy in estate planning matters. Younger individuals may place a special emphasis on providing care for their parents through their estate plan relative to others in their age group. Cultural expectations regarding caregiving responsibilities and financial support for elderly parents or relatives may impact estate planning decisions.

Another cultural context is the view of property and wealth as a means to support family members and future generations, rather than for individual benefit. This results in a focus on legacy and the long-term wellbeing of the family lineage. This core value will help guide the structuring of Wills and Trusts.

Further, some families might have a predisposition towards non-liquid assets such as real estate, family heirlooms, or family businesses. This preference can create complexities in estate planning, particularly in valuing and dividing such assets equitably among heirs.

Honoring ancestors and the importance of leaving a respectful legacy can also shape estate planning preferences, influencing everything from funeral arrangements to charitable giving in honor of the deceased.

Each of these cultural contexts underscores the necessity for culturally sensitive and knowledgeable estate planning services that can accommodate the unique needs and values of Asian Pacific American families.

Tips for Estate Planning Professionals and Financial Advisors

If you are a professional who is curious about how to best support and celebrate Americans who identify as AANHPI, one of the best things you can do is to inform yourself. By reading this guide, you are taking a great first step. We strongly recommend seeking out educational resources provided by AANHPI-identifying organizations.

Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  1. Cultural Sensitivity: Approach estate planning discussions with cultural sensitivity and awareness of diverse family dynamics and values. Instead of making assumptions, ask your client what estate planning objectives they have and what values are important to them.

  2. Education and Awareness: Provide educational resources and information in multiple languages to increase awareness about the importance of estate planning.

  3. Language Access: Ensure access to interpreters or bilingual professionals who can effectively communicate with clients.

  4. Customized Solutions: Offer customized estate planning solutions that align with the unique needs and preferences of your client and their family members.

  5. Collaboration and Networking: Collaborate with community organizations, cultural associations, and legal experts specializing in culture-specific estate planning to better serve clients.

You may have noticed that these tips can be helpful when working with any individual. The U.S. is a cultural melting pot, and any client you meet may surprise you with their unique background, cultural context, and personal values to be celebrated.

Trust & Will: Estate Planning Accessible for All Americans

Estate planning for Asian Pacific American families requires a nuanced understanding of cultural heritage, family dynamics, and socio-political factors. By recognizing and addressing the unique challenges faced by AANHPI communities, we can help empower families to preserve their legacies and secure their futures for generations to come.

As we celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, let us reaffirm our commitment to honoring the diverse voices, experiences, and contributions of Asian Pacific Americans in the United States. Through thoughtful estate planning, we can help ensure that their stories continue to shape and enrich the fabric of our nation.

At Trust & Will, we are proud to be a provider of estate planning solutions that are accessible and affordable for all Americans. Our online platform makes it easy to set up an estate plan, and users won't be bogged down with difficult legal jargon. Instead, they follow step-by-step instructions and questionnaires and are gently guided through the process. Not sure what type of estate plan would be good for you and your family? Don't worry! We can match you up with an estate plan with our quiz. Get started right now with just a few clicks.

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