Estate planning for women: Why it’s important and some tips
Did you know that estate planning is more important for women than for men? Why? Women have a higher life expectancy than men, and those who marry tend to pick partners older than themselves. They are therefore not only more likely to become incapacitated as they age, but also more likely to be widowed. And in most cases, they will have the final say when it comes to the distribution of family assets. (According to the 2010 US census report 39.9 percent of women over the age of 65 were widowed but only 12.7 percent of men.)
So what does all this mean for women? It’s a reminder that they must be just as diligent as men to put their affairs in order in a timely manner. If they own a business they need to create a succession plan, and if they work in areas that are more susceptible to law suits — medicine, law and real estate come to mind — they need to protect their assets. If they are married, they should participate actively in the estate planning process and not, as women used to do, leave the planning up to their husbands. If they are single it is up to them to identify their needs as they face growing older and to provide for their loved ones after they die.
With regards to the specifics of an estate plan, women will need the same elements in place as men. The basic documents should include durable powers of attorney for assets and for health care, as well as a will, a living will and a living trust. Wills can be used to establish guardianship for a minor. Living trusts can be designed to hold assets while the grantor is still alive and ensure continued distributions if that person becomes incapacitated. Neither a will nor a living trust will help reduce estate taxes. But both can be used to name beneficiaries for property, and both are flexible tools. They can be changed and revoked as their creator sees fit.
Speaking of change, here’s a reminder: In my practice as an attorney, I often find that couples or even individuals are eager to set up an estate plan but then fail to amend it as their circumstances shift. Estate planning is an ongoing task. All major life events, from marriage and divorce to the birth of a child and the death of a spouse, require a new look at old documents. This, too, goes for women as much as for men.
By Kevin J. Moore