Women live longer it is true according to Forbes.com, only 14 percent of men over age 65 are widowed, compared with 42 percent of women in the same age group. Women have longer life expectancies, and are more likely to marry older men. Combined with women’s lower average lifetime earnings, this means that women are at a far greater risk than men of being negatively affected by poor estate planning and have to check to ensure that their estate planning is in order by Ensure that Your Estate Planning is in Order.
Planning for the Long Term
It is crucial, therefore, that women take an active role in estate planning to help make sure that their interests are well protected after the death of a spouse. Furthermore, because women are more likely to be widowed, they usually have the final say regarding the ultimate distribution of the couple’s assets to other parties. This places women in an important position to plan for the long term interests of family members, charities and anyone else who will benefit from the estate after both spouses have died.
Estate planning often becomes more complicated when one partner is wealthier than the other or has been married before. The current tax law allows each person to transfer of up to $5 million to non-spousal heirs during life or at death, tax free. Any transfer of this type during life, however, will reduce the tax-free amount available to the heirs, including the surviving spouse, at death.
The new law also allows “portability” between spouses, meaning that spouses may claim the unused portion of each other’s exclusions. This creates the potential for one spouse to use up the couple’s entire combined exclusion in the form of lifetime gifts to other parties (such as charities or children from another marriage), forcing the other spouse to pay hefty taxes on the entire estate when he or she becomes widowed. Since women are more often widowed than men, this issue is something they should be particularly aware of.
Even where the tax exclusion may not be an issue, it is wise for women take an active, educated role in such estate planning decisions as how to structure shared bank accounts, how to transfer assets to beneficiaries free of creditors and ex-spouses, how to avoid having to spend all estate assets in the event of a spouse, or the survivor has to go into long-term care, how to avoid unnecessary taxes on your estate, and whom to appoint as the guardians of your children.