Regardless of whether you’re single or married, divorced or widowed, a parent or not, you need an estate plan, particularly if you are over the age of 60. This is true for men and women, but women face some challenges that make it even more important to start planning even sooner.
Women typically live longer, they’re more likely to be custodial parents and they approach retirement differently than men. In general, women tend to be caregivers – worrying about everyone else but themselves – but when it comes to estate planning, it’s more important that they care for themselves first.
If Your Income Depends on Others
One key aspect of estate planning women will often overlook is what will happen when their husband, parents or other relatives die. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 36 percent of women 65 and older are widowed, compared to 12 percent of men 65 and older.
If you are dependent on someone either financially or emotionally, what happens if something happens to them, if they are disabled or they die?
For example, if a husband starts to receive his pension payments, but chooses to get the maximum benefit in his lifetime — it means the benefits will end at his death.
If he predeceases her, she has nothing. However, if she’d planned for that 20 years prior to his death, there might have been ways to avoid this.
Here is another common scenario. A businessman with significant wealth, will often put his business advisers in charge of his estate plan, rather than his wife and/or children. Yes, the advisers would have a fiduciary duty to the wife upon his death, but they’d have all the power to make decisions about what would be sold, how it would happen, and how it was valued.
For a lot of women, the key is to start planning early. Have discussions with your spouse or family members and set things up with longevity in mind.
Start talking to your family about what their estate plans are. For example, if you’re a caregiver for a parent, talk to your siblings and parents about the potential implications of that: Does your time caregiving have implications for how your parent’s estate is divided?
Plans Will Vary
Your estate-plan focus will vary depending on your situation. Are you married or single? Children or no children?
For a single woman without children, the most difficult decision is going to revolve around who will take care of you, in the event an illness incapacitates you, and who will make your medical and financial decisions.
For married women with children, often the first two estate-planning concerns are naming a guardian for the children and planning for income replacement through life insurance.
For women who are widowed, key considerations include making sure their estate plan has been revised to reflect the husband’s death and to assess whether there are different financial-planning opportunities and challenges to consider.
A first step for anyone who’s gone through a divorce is to check the beneficiary designations on retirement and other financial accounts. Often people will walk away from their spouse, but then never do any of the cleanup work.
Women who remarry or those who come to a marriage with significant assets, should think carefully about their estate plan before tying the knot.
Women tend to be hesitant to discuss their net worth going into a new relationship, but that can be a big mistake. If they keep control of their assets separately, if they divorce, the new spouse won’t have access to that money.
In Washington, a spouse of someone dying without a Will gets 100% of the Community Property and 50% of the deceased's separate property. If the spouse dies with a Will, the Will language controls. However, not all assets pass under the Will. Some pass by beneficiary designation (think life insurance and IRA) and some by joint tenancy with right of survivorship (think checking/savings accounts).
There are a couple of ways to forestall that issue, though none are ideal.
One tactic is to make sure beneficiary designations on retirement plans are set such that your children or other heirs inherit — but those designations need to be in place before you get married. Changing beneficiary designations after you get married may be difficult, because some financial-services firms won’t allow changes that entail disinheriting a spouse without the spouse’s consent.
Another solution is to set up a trust, naming a child or other relative as the recipient, and put assets into it before you get married. You can still borrow from the trust, but the husband will not have access to that money if you die.
Women who remarry should realize that any assets they brought to the marriage are on tap to pay for the new spouse’s medical bills — that includes nursing-home care, which can quickly drain one’s resources. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve been married two days or 50 years, the spouse will have to pay for medical care. Your assets are going to be on the line for their medical care, and you can’t get around that.
Women who bring a significant amount of money to a marriage should consider protecting their assets by purchasing a long-term-care policy for her spouse, setting up a trust before the marriage, and working with an attorney prior to the marriage.
Estate Planning is Important
The prospect of estate planning can be overwhelming. The first hurdle is simply facing the fact of death. The next hurdle is trying to get a handle on complex topics that are often difficult to understand. Then there’s the question of finding and hiring an attorney.
No matter what your age or how much money you have, consider getting these items into place:
At Tacoma Elder Care, we are always working on ways to help you. If you are just beginning to think about your planning, we highly recommend attending one of our FREE workshops to learn more about how to start, and the most important documents everyone needs to have in place. Contact us today to register, or to schedule a FREE consultation.