Estate planning is definitely not a one-size-fits-all kind of deal. Every family has unique dynamics and circumstances that must be considered and examined when preparing an estate plan. As our lives evolve, so too do our needs and goals, which means an estate plan will change over time.

But how exactly do estate planning needs differ from one woman to the next? To answer this question, let’s start by considering the general life stages of all ladies, and how they impact estate planning.

Twenty and Untouchable

Women in their twenties are really just starting out in life. They’re typically focused on getting through the day, and taking steps to establish a career and make more money.

At this stage of life, most women aren’t really thinking about what would happen if they were to become incapacitated or die, and we all know that people in their youth never think that these things will happen to them anyway. But the reality is that these things do happen, and when they do, it’s a legal and emotional nightmare for the family. This is why it’s so important for everyone to have some estate planning documents in place—even people who are only in their twenties.

Thirty and Thriving

When women transition into their thirties, they become focused on their careers and/or their families. For some ladies, career growth is their sole focus, and they put the majority of their time toward climbing the ladder of success in order to reach their personal goals. For other ladies, their attention and focus may be split between climbing the ladder and looking to start and grow a family.

As women begin to increase their wealth and have children, their need for an estate plan comes to the forefront. And for mothers, concerns regarding their children should compel them to immediately address some estate planning needs.

So … why isn’t this always the case? As a young mother, I recall my own concerns regarding my children, such as what would happen to them if their father and I passed away. Many women will ask themselves this question or perhaps voice their concerns privately to their loved ones about who they would (and would not) want to care for their children in the event that a tragedy or terminal illness arises.

This is the time when women must answer some key, potentially life-changing questions:

  • Who will be the guardian for my children?
  • Can I really trust this person to make life decisions for my children?
  • Who do I trust to handle the finances I am leaving behind for my children?

Ladies, you work hard to build a career and family, so why would you leave these important decisions to a judge? By neglecting to plan, that is exactly what you are doing, and the judge may not choose the person(s) that you would have chosen. Are you okay with this?

Forty and Fabulous

Ladies in their forties begin to look at life differently; they’ve matured a bit, or life has matured them. Perhaps they are in a loving marriage with children, or perhaps their marriage has failed and they suddenly find themselves on a whole new journey in life. Maybe they’re single and have never married and they’re happy with that, or maybe they are truly seeking their soulmate.

Either way, it’s during the forties that a woman’s estate planning priorities become more and more important, especially as they start to realize that they won’t live forever, and want to pass on their assets to their loved ones—the ones they’ve shared their love and laughter with for so many years.

Some women, by the time they are in their fabulous forties, have already been working to build their retirement fund, while others are just starting the process. Regardless, an estate plan is needed.

Fifty and Free

Ladies in their fifties begin to experience a new sense of freedom. Woohoo! Perhaps their children are grown and gone (or at least almost out of the nest), and there is more free time to be had; it’s a time for travel, the rebirth of social activities, and hobbies.

At this age, women have usually experienced the passing of friends and/or family members (whether young or old), and the need to have an effective estate plan in place has either been addressed or is becoming alarmingly important. They begin to really acknowledge that they are aging, and face the thought that anything can happen to them or a loved one. Life’s lessons have taught them that life and time are both precious and fleeting.

Legacy Years

In the legacy years, women are finally approaching the second half of their lives and realize that they have fewer years ahead of them than there are behind them. They have matured not only in their looks, but in their minds, and they have come to realize that they (and everyone else) will die at some point; the only question is whether they will face incapacity before that happens.

Many women at this age have watched their grandparents and parents get older, and along the way, learned many lessons they would have never imagined. There is so much dignity and wisdom that comes with age. At this stage in life, estate planning is a must in order to protect loved ones—and that includes making sure their estate plan is up to date.

We all want to do what we can to ensure that our loved ones are protected when we are no longer able to protect them ourselves. But the word ‘protect’ can mean different things to different people. For some, it means making sure things are as easy as possible for their loved ones; for others, it means making sure their loved one’s inheritance doesn’t get lost through a divorce, or because of creditor issues. In some cases, protecting a loved one means protecting them from their own poor choices (e.g., addiction, poor spending habits, or perhaps not the best choices in life partners).

Every lady has heard or experienced a horror story or two about the nightmares that can ensue after a loved one has passed away. As women—especially in our legacy years—we will recall different nightmare scenarios and acknowledge that we definitely don’t want our family to experience anything even remotely similar.

Most (if not all) of us will worry about the impact the government will have on the monies we plan to leave to our loved ones. We don’t want the government (instead of our loved ones) to get any extra money in taxes, especially if it can be avoided with proper estate planning.

Thoughts of how our families would be impacted by our having a stroke or developing a debilitating disease, such as Alzheimer’s, will weigh heavily on our minds during this time. And we know we definitely don’t want to go into a nursing home—NO, NO, NO, not me! Our money is supposed to go to our loved ones, not nursing homes, but we also need to do what we can to avoid being a burden to our families.

It is apparent—given these changes in our thought processes as we age and mature—that different phases of our lives require different estate planning strategies to address the concerns we have. As life changes, our estate plan documents and strategies may need to change too.

But age certainly isn’t the only factor that may influence the need for changes to an estate plan: a change in other demographics will facilitate a need to update an estate plan as well, and women may transition to and from various demographic stages throughout life (e.g., from single to divorced, from mother to grandmother, to business buyer to business seller). All phases will result in a need to re-evaluate the unique circumstances of life at that particular point along the journey.