Women have come a long way since the days when they weren't permitted to even write a check or balance a checkbook. But women are still lagging behind when it comes to estate planning. A recent survey found that:

  • The majority of Americans with minors in their household understand that the Court will decide a child’s legal guardian if both parents die, but only 39% have any estate planning documents in place.
  • Over one-third (36%) of Americans with minors in their household do not believe that wills are the most important documents to have in place. They rank birth certificates (76%) and car titles (70%) higher.
  • Women and younger Americans are more concerned with maintaining their weight than with protecting their financial assets.

Why Does it Matter?

First of all, women are still, most often, the caretaker of minor children and as the children grow up, and spouses pass away, women are more likely to be alone later in life. Among Americans aged 65 and older, only 14% of men, but a staggering 42% of women, are widowed. Women usually have a longer life expectancy and lower lifetime earnings, so they are more likely to see their standard of living compromised if there is no estate plan. On the positive side, since women outlive men, they can have the last word about whether the couple’s assets go to family members, a charity or to the IRS. But in order to do so, they must talk about their goals and have a written estate plan.

How Do I Bring it Up With My Spouse?

In a recent article in Forbes Magazine, Deborah L. Jacobs gives some good tips on how to start the conversation about estate planning. If you are talking to your spouse, she suggests that the conversation focus on your mutual concerns (“We’re not getting any younger – I think it’s time we did our wills.”) or focus on the children (“Now that we are parents, we really shouldn’t procrastinate any longer about doing our wills.”)

Sometimes it is easier to start with current events or an anecdote about other people. Perhaps it’s a movie you saw, a book you read, a news report about someone your age who recently died or a sudden death in your community. If a friend or family member has talked to you about her own plan, it can help take the sting off confronting the awful thought that one of you is likely to go first.

How Do I Talk to My Parents About it?

Once parents become incompetent, they lack the legal capacity to make binding commitments, so it is important to sign estate-planning documents before that happens. Since women are most often the care-givers for aging parents, women need to make sure that Mom and Dad have their documents in order. Try using non-confrontational, subtle approaches like: “I just did my own estate plan. Don’t you think you should update yours?” You might also share a story about a friend’s parent who did not take the necessary measures (for example, by not signing a durable power of attorney) and how much hardship was caused for the children. Most parents dread the idea of becoming a burden to their children and might be more open to a conversation about how to help their children than to a conversation about their own mortality.

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