When is the last time you thought about your estate plan? If you are like most women, it is probably not something that crosses your mind every day — we are all busy with more immediate priorities like family, work and community involvement. However, just like regular check-ups for your physical health, it is important to do a quick review of your estate planning documents every couple of years to make sure they are up to date.
Why does it matter? Women face unique estate planning challenges
Did you know that women live an average of 4.9 years longer than men?1 A longer life-expectancy rate means that women have additional planning concerns to consider, compared to their male counterparts — for instance, ensuring their assets can last for a longer period of time, should they ever become widowed.
Some women may also face financial challenges due to shorter work histories, prompted by putting their careers on hold to raise families. This break in pay could impact the amount of savings these women will accumulate for their retirement; an organized estate plan can help facilitate the transfer of those assets.
“We find that the majority of the surviving spouses we work with are women,” says Melissa Kampmann, attorney and chair of the Trusts & Estates Practice Group at Ruder Ware, LLSC, a law firm headquartered in Wausau, Wisconsin. “These women are often thankful for the time and effort that we put into creating a properly constructed estate plan. Not only does an estate plan save time and money, but it can also provide numerous protections for the surviving spouse and her estate upon her passing.”
With the right guidance and team of professionals, you can stay on top of your estate plan and make sure you are ready for whatever the future holds. Here are some important planning tips to keep in mind.
Know your financial assets: It is important to assume an active role in managing your finances. Take inventory of what types of financial assets you own; these might include checking and savings accounts, taxable investment accounts or retirement plan accounts. Make sure you understand how those assets are managed and how they should be distributed at your death.
Protect your financial assets: Make sure your insurance coverage can support your financial needs in case your spouse passes away before you do. Also, consider purchasing insurance on your life to cover any final expenses or estate taxes that might be due at death.
Plan for your financial assets: Essentially, estate planning is a process that allows individuals to create documents reflecting how they want their personal and financial assets to be distributed at their death. By practicing proactive planning, you will gain full control over the disposition of those assets; the process can also include planning for incapacity in case you become physically or mentally unable to make decisions while you’re still alive.
So, what are the basic estate planning documents that every woman should have in place?
– A will, which is a legal document that directs how your financial and physical assets should be distributed at your death.
– A living will — also known as an “advance directive” — is a document that states your wishes for end-of-life care.
– A durable power of attorney for health care, a document that appoints an individual or individuals to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to make them yourself.
More advanced estate planning documents could include trusts and vehicles for charitable gifting.
Once you have the important, core documents in place, make sure that you are titling your accounts in accordance with your estate plan — this means the account registration (the name on the account) should also reflect the titling in your plan. “Whether you’re a single woman looking to develop a plan or prepare for a spouse’s passing, it is important to pick trusted advisors that can provide assistance during times of incapacity or death, and also ensure that assets are directed to the intended beneficiaries,” notes Kampmann.
Moreover, make sure the beneficiary designations on your retirement accounts are in sync with your estate documents. Try setting a reminder to review your beneficiary designations annually on your birthday so you don’t forget.
The main takeaway
The fact that women are likely to outlive their spouses makes an updated, comprehensive estate plan all the more important. As women, it’s crucial that we take an active role in managing our finances, protecting our assets and having a clear plan for distributing those assets in the future.