LASTING COMMITMENTS: Preserving inheritance for future generations

When I started my estate planning practice 21 years ago, I wanted to provide a valuable service while devoting part of my practice to clients who couldn’t afford market-rate legal services. I did not know then how surprised I would be by the lessons I would learn along the way.

I’ve always had a strong core of Japanese American clients because of my personal and family ties to community organizations, and articles I’ve written for the Hokubei Mainichi (which closed in 2009) and the Rafu Shimpo in Los Angeles. I grew up with a desire to serve my community and work for justice. My father, Phillip Shigekuni, became a leading figure in the redress campaign leading to the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. He still contributes to the Rafu. My aunt Akemi Kikumura Yano was president and CEO of the Japanese American National Museum and is a Nichi Bei Foundation Advisory Council member.

Since my work involves talking about families, I’m able to share common threads of family history with many Japanese American people. I’m a Gosei on my Dad’s side and a Sansei on my Mom’s side. My Dad’s grandmother, Dorothy Miyamoto, was born in San Francisco in 1896. My Mom’s mother, Masuko Kikumura (the subject of my aunt Akemi Kikumura Yano’s book “Through Harsh Winters,” 1981, Chandler & Sharp Publishers), came from Hiroshima to the Central Valley of California in 1923. In the JA community, the saying about “six degrees of separation” isn’t accurate. It’s more like “two degrees of separation.”

Working with a lot of Nisei, there are some characteristics of the group that I have frequently observed. Most are extremely punctual; people with children have been very committed to their kids’ success and well-being; and people are very trustworthy and reliable. There is strong group cohesiveness and a great deal of trust for other Japanese Americans. Of course, no group is perfectly uniform, but I echo the general reputation that Nisei have earned.

I continue to see signs of the group trauma shared by the Issei and Nisei who were incarcerated. That wound was seared indelibly into people’s souls and personalities, and the effects are further manifested among future generations.

The wartime dispossession of Japanese Americans also had effects on intergenerational wealth that are still visible. Although Japanese Americans are a fairly comfortable group thanks to the hard work of Issei and eventual success of many Nisei, Japanese Americans on the whole do not have high levels of intergenerational wealth. So many families’ savings were wiped out during the war, even now the descendants of dispossessed and incarcerated people are not as wealthy as they could have been.

After a couple of decades, the surprises for me have been that I’d actually have observations to make about my parents’ generation, that I’d have unique legal advice to contribute, that I’d be drawn to the community and the community would be drawn to me, how much I’d grow to value my ties to the community and genuinely embrace my identity as a Japanese American, that I’d have extremely talented colleagues from varied backgrounds, and that I’d gain wisdom through working hard and helping people.

Kenji Taguma has invited me to share about estate planning and long term care issues with the readers of the Nichi Bei Weekly. I’m delighted by the prospect because we’ve gained very useful information about taxes, public benefits like Medi-Cal long-term care, social service programs that benefit older Americans, and ways that family members can care for each other by having appropriate documents signed and I’m anxious to share that information.

The first question we’ll be exploring is, “How Should I Respond if Someone Asks me to be a Beneficiary?” A “beneficiary” is someone who will receive an inheritance in the future. The first inclination may be to respond, “Yes!” But we’ll try to reveal angles to the question that may not be apparent at first glance.

Laurie Shigekuni Esq. is the lead attorney at Laurie Shigekuni & Associates, a firm that practices estate planning, trust administration, probate, and Medi-Cal long-term care planning. Her primary office is located in San Francisco, and she has a satellite office in Pasadena. Contact information is: www.calestateplanning.com, contact@calestateplanning.com, (415) 584-4550, 800-417-5250. The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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