“THE LEGAL CORNER”
By Sam A. Moak
All Estate Plans are not Necessarily Equal
The information in this column is not intended as legal advice but to provide a general understanding of the law. Any readers with a legal problem, including those whose questions are addressed here, should consult an attorney for advice on their particular circumstance.
We’re all about equality, but the fact is that women have different estate planning needs than men. Whether they’re single or married, have children or no children, women have different things to think about when it comes to estate planning. This means that women need to be involved in the planning process: express their own wishes, voice their own concerns, and ask their own questions. Here are three of the ways that women are different from men—and how it affects their estate planning.
Women live longer than men.
Among the senior citizen population (65 and older) more than three times as many women as men are widowed. This longer life expectancy means two things; first of all it means that women are the ones who will likely have to deal with taxes. When a married person dies their assets can transfer to their spouse tax free. This doesn’t avoid taxes. It merely delays them, and the surviving spouse (the woman) will have to be the one to minimize the tax burden on the children. Second of all, women have to worry more about their retirement savings lasting them to the end. Estate planning is partially about distribution of your remaining assets when you die—it takes careful planning to ensure that you’ll have remaining assets after a long and active life.
Women are the caregivers.
This includes taking care of young children and elderly parents. Statistically, women are the ones who will initiate the estate planning process—mainly because they are concerned about the guardianship of young children. Women are also the ones who will eventually have most need of a caregiver agreement or help navigating the Medicaid application process when they’re caring for their older relatives.
Women need to be most concerned about loss of primary income.
Because men are still generally the primary breadwinners in a family, women are the ones most often left out in the cold when their spouse passes away and they lose that income stream. Women need not only to make sure they and their partner both have adequate insurance policies, they need to plan to keep those insurance proceeds and to avoid heavy taxes upon death.
It’s easy to see, when creating an estate plan, how important it is to protect and pass on your assets, but a good estate planner knows that a Will or a trust is not all about assets. In fact, for all of the technical and financial language you may find in your Will or trust, the most important part of the document is if—and how—it reflects your values.
You may think that values are something you’re more likely to discuss with your spiritual advisor than your estate planner, but we know you’ve worked hard to give your children and grandchildren a foundation of knowledge and belief to serve them when you’re not there. We want to help you create a thoughtful and comprehensive estate plan to help you continue doing just that.
There are a few ways in which you can use your estate plan to pass on your values:
You can impress upon your children or grandchildren the importance of education by leaving an inheritance to them in an educational trust.
Help your children or grandchildren learn to follow their dreams by earmarking part of the trust principal to be distributed should they want to start their own business.
Pass on your belief in the value of family by creating a special trust to support stay-at-home parents.
Teach fiscal responsibility by choosing to have distributions made gradually, helping your beneficiaries learn how to handle their finances responsibly and with maturity.
With the help of a caring and attentive attorney, you can leave a deeper legacy than mere money; you can impart your closely held values for generations to come.
All of these things can be discussed and planned for with your estate planning attorney—and it doesn’t take away from your spouse or children. In fact, having your own plan in order actually helps the important people in your life. So don’t wait any longer, plan to protect yourself today and in the future.
Sam A. Moak is an attorney with the Huntsville law firm of Moak & Moak, P.C. He is licensed to practice in all fields of law by the Supreme Court of Texas, is a Member of the State Bar College, and is a member of the Real Estate, Probate and Trust Law Section of the State Bar of Texas.