Shortcut Navigation:

Women and Estate Planning

They say men are from Mars and women are from Venus, but is this true when it comes to estate planning? Absolutely. And because women often find themselves in such different circumstances than men, it is even more crucial for them to educate themselves about estate planning, and consult an experienced estate planning professional.

Women tend to live longer than men

Women live an average of 4.9 years longer than men (Source: National Vital Statistics Report, Volume 59, Number 4, March 2011). That means women need their assets to last longer than men do. It also means that wives are probably going to outlive their husbands, so they will likely inherit their husbands' estates, and they will probably have the last word about the final disposition of assets going to the couple's heirs.

Women tend to earn less during their lives than men

Full-time working women earned only 81.2 cents for each dollar a man earned in 2010 (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Women at Work report, March 2011). Further, women work fewer years than men in order to care for home and family, further reducing their ability to save (Source: GAO-04-35, October 31, 2003). Simply put, women earn less money over their lifetimes than men. This means that women must plan to make fewer dollars last longer. It's important that women get sound retirement planning advice.

Most custodial parents are women

Approximately 84% of custodial parents are women (Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Child Support report, November 2009). Women who are parents of young children need to plan for the continued care of those children if something unforseen should happen. They also need to determine who will handle the children's property until they are older.

Women are business owners

Women owned 7.8 million nonfarm U.S. businesses operating in the 50 states and the District of Columbia in 2007, an increase of 20.1% from 2002 (most recent statistic available) (Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Facts for Features article, January 26, 2011). Women who are business owners need to protect their assets, and plan for the succession of their businesses.

Women are professionals

Women make up 57.5% of professional and related occupations (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey, Table 11, "Employed persons by detailed occupation, sex, race, and Hispanic or Latino ethnicity," 2010). Women in professions with high litigation risks, like medicine, law, and real estate, can benefit from asset protection planning.

Women are wealthy

Women control $14 trillion in assets (Source: Center for Women's Business Research, 2005) and three-fourths of the financial wealth in the United States (Source: womensvoicesforchange.org, July 21, 2011). It's important for women to get sound investment, charitable giving, and tax planning advice.

Creating an estate plan

Regardless of marital status or net worth, women should make important decisions and arrangements today in order to protect themselves, their husbands or partners, and other loved ones in case of incapacity or death.

To create an estate plan, women need to have at least a working knowledge of the estate planning tools that are available, which typically include:

  • Will -- A will is a written directive that includes instructions about who is to settle the estate (the executor), how property is to be distributed to the heirs, and perhaps most importantly, who will raise the children. Dying without a will means that a probate court will distribute the estate, which might result in family problems and lawsuits. Wills should be reviewed at least every two years, and updated after significant life events such as a birth, death, divorce, or remarriage.
  • Trust -- A trust is a legal entity where someone, known as the grantor, arranges with another person, known as the trustee, to hold property for the benefit of a third party, known as the beneficiary. The grantor names the beneficiary and trustee, and establishes the rules the trustee must follow in a document called a trust agreement.
  • Durable Power of Attorney -- A durable power of attorney (DPOA) names family members or other trusted individuals to make financial decisions or transact business on behalf of the person executing the DPOA.
  • Health-Care Directives -- Health-care directives are instructions about the medical care that would be wanted if conditions were such that the patient couldn't express his or her own wishes.