Let’s face it: when it comes to decisions that affect the family, women are often in the driver’s seat. After all, women are natural caregivers and are usually more tuned in to the needs of their children and spouse than men are. In fact, women are often the ones to initiate meetings with Estate Planning attorneys, but they often do it on behalf of their husbands. Lawyer Going Over an Estate Plan With a CoupleWhether you are single or married, a wage-earner or homemaker, in your 30s or retired, if you are a woman, it is important that you talk to an Estate Planning attorney about protecting your family and your assets from life’s unexpected surprises, as well as the eventualities you can bank on. We take a look at why Estate Planning is so important for women.

Your Husband’s Will Is Not Enough

While it’s true that married couples hold many assets jointly, it is not true that only one of you needs Estate Planning documents. When we meet with couples in our office, we stress the importance of drafting documents that protect both spouses in a variety of potential situations. However, other lawyers might not offer the same advice, and documents downloaded from the internet certainly aren’t advising women to look out for themselves. We encourage women to take an active role in Estate Planning for the following reasons.

Women Live Longer Than Men

On average, women live about five years longer than men. If you outlive your husband, you will need your joint assets to last long enough to support you beyond your husband’s death. This is one reason it’s so important that you take an active part in planning for the future with an attorney. Does your husband’s Will account for the fact that you will probably outlive him? Are your Trusts designed to support you for as long as you need it before assets go to other heirs? Your Estate Planning team should ask these questions.

Because of their longevity, women are also more likely than men to eventually need a nursing home. According to the National Institutes of Health, for every 100 men aged 75-84 in nursing homes, there are 150 women, and over the age of 85, the number of women in nursing homes is more than twice that of men. That means that it is even more important for women to think about how they are going to pay for a nursing home one day than it is for men. Working with a Medicaid Planning attorney before you are a widow is an important step to take to protect yourself.

Another important consideration is your Power of Attorney document. You and your spouse probably named each other when you first signed them, but if he dies before you, you will need a new agent. Many women fail to update important documents when a spouse dies, leaving them stranded when they become incapacitated.

Many Women Earn Less Than Their Spouses Over a Lifetime

While this is certainly changing, many women who are Baby Boomers probably earned less money than their husbands throughout their lives. Not only have women historically been paid less than men for the same work, but many women take time out of their careers—if they have them—to care for children and aging adults, sacrificing income to do so. Not only do women need sound retirement planning to make up for the disparity, but couples must also account for the difference when planning their joint estate. How can you ensure that your husband’s pension or retirement savings will go to you upon his death?  We can help with that.

Women Are Usually the Custodial Parents After Divorce

It is vital that both men and women create new Estate Plans after a divorce. All too often, documents are not updated, and there is a whole lot of confusion when one of them dies. Because women usually have primary custody of underage children after a divorce, it is especially important that your Will is updated with your wishes for guardianship and that your children are included in your ex-husband’s new plan. These can be extremely difficult conversations to have, but they are necessary to protect yourself and your children.

Women Are Often Caregivers for Other Family Members

Caring for parents and other family members with dementia or physical disabilities often falls to women, and these caregivers often become Trustees or Power of Attorney agents for the ailing loved one. If you don’t have your own Estate Plan that acknowledges these legal roles, your loved one could lose continuity of care if something happens to you. If you have become the guardian of a grandchild, it is also important that your Estate Plan be updated to take this child into consideration. These are complicated situations that warrant a meeting with an Estate Planning attorney as soon as possible.

Many Women Own Small Businesses

If you are among the nearly 13 million women who own a business in the United States, it is vital that you protect what you have built in your Estate Plan. This should include succession planning in case you become incapacitated or die unexpectedly. No matter how small your profit margins are, you should discuss your wishes with an Estate Planning attorney.

Important Documents Every Woman Needs

Regardless of what your husband has in terms of an Estate Plan, you should have your own Will, Powers of Attorney that name an agent in addition to your husband, Advance Directive, and, possibly, Trusts that take your unique situation into consideration.

Lisa B. Shoalmire
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Attorney And Senior Partner