I believe the biggest reason women don’t plan is lack of education about the importance of estate planning. It is not easy to learn or speak about the possibility that one may, at some point in time, lose their independence and ability to take care of themselves. It is even more difficult to discuss the certainty of death.
Although lack of education is a major factor for woman failing to plan, other factors have an influence on women as well:
Lack of confidence about finances. Too many women don’t plan their estate because they do not feel confident about their finances. Sometimes this lack of confidence comes from a lack of education, but oftentimes, it is a derivative of a bad experience they had with a condescending or patronizing advisor who left them feeling insecure about money matters.
It is not uncommon for my female clients to relay to me an experience they had with an advisor, during which they were made to feel inadequate. In a world where the advisor’s job is to advise, this seems like a counterintuitive approach for a professional to take.
Historically, men have been brought into the financial planning folds early in life. As little boys, they are taught how to make money, how to save it, how to spend it, and how to invest it. Thinking back to their childhood, many women realize that these conversations were never had with them. Sometimes they occurred later in life, and most often by adults outside the family, but oftentimes these conversations were never had at all.
The irony of this is that women will predominately be left behind to manage their family’s wealth, and the wealth of our country. Despite progress in granting women more rights, cultural attitudes about money and finance have been slow to shift, which continues to contribute to this ongoing lack of confidence felt by women.
The feeling that no one is listening. Common feedback from female clients is that they do not feel like their concerns are being heard. It is definitely difficult for a person to want to talk about something that is important to them when they feel like no one is listening. Sometimes women feel like this due to the nature of their relationship, such as their spouse being predominantly in control of the decisions. Other times, it may be the result of an overbearing child or other family member, who undoubtedly means well, but who has asserted themselves in a way that makes the female feel insignificant and powerless.
Gender Norms. As a society, we have come a long way from Adam and Eve and the Flintstones, but gender norm ideas still exist and impact the behaviors of men and women. Historically, women were raised to be nurturing, and were taught to manage familial relationships and to take care of the house, the cooking, and the children. Men, on the other hand, were raised to be assertive, to make money for the household, and to be responsible for financial and legal matters.
Although many of the traditional biases of males and females are outdated and not consciously thought about, they do tend to trickle into our lives as a result of our upbringings. What has not changed significantly is that women are still the primary caretakers and the emotional backbone of their families.
It is imperative that women begin to take a more active role when it comes to learning about and managing their finances, as this will help them build the confidence necessary to create a solid and reliable plan for the future.
Too young to worry about it. Some women ask if they are too young to put an estate plan in place. I do not believe anyone is ever too young to put an estate plan in place. Why? Because no one has a crystal ball; no one knows what their future holds, or when or how they might become incapacitated or die.
Young women with young children must put a plan in place in order to choose who they would want to care for their children in the event that they can no longer do it themselves—and this includes handling financial matters for any minor children they leave behind.
In the absence of a legal plan, the courts will choose who they believe to be the best candidate for these roles. If a family member is available and interested in filling these roles, the courts will usually choose them. However, the courts can and do appoint complete strangers to these roles as well. Just the thought of a complete stranger overseeing the well-being of a child who has just lost their mom should be the prompt one needs to get their estate plan in place.
Too expensive. It is my belief that women only feel like it may be too expensive to put an estate plan in place if they do not truly understand the value of a proper estate plan and how effective it can be in addressing a woman’s main estate planning concerns. A good estate plan can ensure that a particular person of the woman’s choosing makes medical and financial decisions on her behalf, should she become unable to make these types of decisions herself. It can also help ensure a smooth transition of the woman’s assets to her loved ones upon her death, help maintain the relationships in the family, and avoid the costs of court involvement. These are priceless benefits. By investing in a proper estate plan, a woman can rest assured knowing that she has saved her loved ones’ time, money, and aggravation.
The assumption that it’s unnecessary. Some women feel as if they do not need to put an estate plan in place. This is especially true among single women who do not yet have a family. However, anyone who wants to have a say about what should happen if they were to become incapacitated or pass away should have an estate plan.
A married woman may assume that as long as her spouse has a will or trust, she doesn’t need one. Or, she might simply assume that she does not have sufficient assets in her own name to warrant making an estate plan. Such assumptions can be very costly because they ignore the probability that the wife will survive her spouse, and therefore likely receive the bulk of her spouse’s estate (which might be sizable). It also ignores the possibility that the wife will inherit from her parents.
Depending on the generation, a woman might think that if the property is held primarily in the name of her husband, then she does not need to partake in estate planning. Other times, women believe that owning property jointly or having beneficiaries on their accounts means that they do not need to put an estate plan in place. If jointly-held assets are held as joint tenants with rights of survivorship, then when one owner dies, the property will automatically be owned by the other owner. But what happens once that spouse (the woman) becomes the only remaining owner of the property? Such property would have to be dealt with in probate after the woman passes away. This can be avoided by properly planning your estate.
IRAs, life insurance policies, and some bank accounts will automatically transfer to the beneficiaries listed on those accounts. The key is to make sure that the people listed as beneficiaries should still be listed as such. If one or more of the listed beneficiaries is a minor, then an estate planning attorney should be consulted so that there is no misunderstanding in terms of whether and to what degree the courts might have to be involved.
For more information on Estate Planning For Women In Massachusetts, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (978) 566-3500 today.