Key Estate Planning Concerns for Women

elderly couple

Women face unique challenges when it comes to providing for themselves and their loved ones. Women are always on the go, taking care of families, pursuing challenging careers, contributing to the community around them, finding time to spend with a partner, etc. There are constant demands for our attention. Yet, while our day-to-day lives can be consuming, it is equally important to plan for the future.

Let's look at typical hindrances that women encounter in estate planning, as well as their top concerns.

Typical Mistakes

  • Failing to participate in the estate planning process. If your answer to the question "What are your estate planning concerns?" is "I have none, my husband takes care of all that" - then you've made this error!
  • Thinking that estate planning is only for older women.
  • Not enjoying wealth during your lifetime; instead, an over-concern of providing for the next generation.
  • Avoiding an estate plan altogether or not having a living trust in place.
  • Relying upon your children to "figure it all out" when you or your spouse dies.
  • Making changes to your will too soon after your spouse dies.
  • Failure to have an estate plan when your marital status changes.

You might ask "Why do women have different estate planning considerations as compared to men?" There are several reasons; at least one of these likely applies to you.

KEY CONCERNS

Outliving Your Spouse -- Statistically, women outlive their husbands (life expectancy of 79 vs. 73 for men, according to CDC data). So, if you are married, you are likely to find yourself at some point handling funeral matters, rearranging your budget for less income, and handling all of the duties that your husband managed. At the same time, widows move through their own experiences of grief, loss, or trauma after the death of a spouse. If you have minor children, not only will you need to attend to their emotional and psychological needs for their father's departure, you'll need to step into his role and become a single, widowed mother. A wife should participate actively in the creation of an estate plan with her husband so that both can be on the same page when it comes to bequeathing their assets and all aspects of their estate.

When your spouse passes, typically all the assets you jointly own go to you. Even though you own everything, you are self-reliant in managing it. An estate plan is essential to help ensure your financial security as a widow, then to make certain that your assets are properly distributed when you die.

Divorce -- You may have planned your whole adult life around shared assets and income - then overnight, it all changes. As soon as the divorce is officially completed, you should update your estate planning documents. This will include naming of executor, preparing a new living trust, naming of beneficiaries, etc. Remember to also check insurance policies, retirement accounts, bank accounts, etc.

Single/Never Married -- For unmarried or single women, you should be aware of what may happen to those you love when you pass on, or even when you are incapacitated. Many don't anticipate such situations, especially when a woman is in good health, so it is important to be prepared. Without a will, a single person has no clear individual (under the law) to receive your assets when you pass. If you fail to make a will, the state will dispose of your property. Do you want to leave funds for your favorite charitable causes? Do you have children? Guardianship for minors is even more important for the unmarried.

Health Concerns -- Heart disease, cancer, respiratory diseases, and stroke are some of the leading causes of death for women. When these ailments strike, estate planning usually isn't the first item on a woman's list of to-dos. Instead, your estate plan should be prepared far in advance. As for end-of-life decisions, who will communicate with your healthcare providers if you are unable to?

You need to have a Health Care Proxy and Power of Attorney so that your medical wishes and financial matters will be managed. This is an important consideration in women's life expectancy; as we age, we may lose our cognitive abilities -- sadly, Dementia and Alzheimer's Disease are common among the elderly.

Blended Families -- The enjoyment of blended families can easily become confusing due to an untimely death or illness. As such, it is critical to have your estate plan in order. Think through every scenario, addressing issues such as the death of either spouse, stepchildren, future children, in-laws, aging grandparents, etc.

Caregiving -- Women far outnumber men in the role of caregiver for a spouse or family member (the Institute for Aging reports that 75% of caregivers are women). As such, women are more likely to be on their own or in a custodial situation during their retirement years. This is an important quality-of-life issue that can be addressed in an estate plan.

Business Holdings -- Many women are business owners, so it is important to fully address business succession and ownership issues in your estate plan. If your husband is a business owner, you need to know much more than you think about its operations, assets, and obligations. It is common for a wife to be mostly unaware of her spouse's business activities, then find that the business had significant debt, outstanding accounts receivable from customers, different business divisions or entities, multiple real estate holdings, and various partnership arrangements. Unfortunately, a widow who was anticipating income from the business may find that partners have documentation that proves otherwise.

SPECIALIZED ESTATE PLANNING FOR WOMEN

As with men, women often overlook estate planning. It may seem far away and "Who has time to deal with it?" you may think. However, an estate planning law firm can help, no matter how busy your life may be. The attorneys at Mortensen & Reinheimer, PC thoroughly understand the diverse needs of women in estate planning. Please contact Mortensen & Reinheimer, PC at (714) 384-6053 to make an appointment, or use our online contact form. Our website is https://www.ocestateplanning.net.

About the author:

Tamsen R. Reinheimer, Attorney, is a Certified Specialist in Estate Planning, Trust & Probate Law (The State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization). She has significant experience in all aspects of estate planning, trust administration, and probate. Contact Tamsen at tamsen@ocestateplanning.net.

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