Expanding the Woman’s Role in Estate Planning
Gaining Control as a More Active Participant

By Thomas O'Diam,
O’Diam, O’Diam & Stecker Law Group

Men and women often approach estate planning differently. Men usually focus more on financial issues – money and taxes. Women generally take a more compassionate approach, reflecting their customary nurturing role within the family. They are concerned about the care and protection of their children or grandchildren, and special assets that have sentimental value. This focus on softer issues is vital for the family, but is it really best for the woman herself?

Women need to expand their role in the estate planning process for their own protection. If you are married and your husband unexpectedly passed away, would you know the details of your family’s finances? Women in this situation are often clueless regarding what they own and where it is. This adds enormous stress to an already difficult time in your life. It does not have to be that way.

Make sure that you know exactly what you own and exactly what you owe. Gain as much understanding as possible about every part of your finances. Knowledge is a powerful thing and can make a difference in your financial survival if someday you find yourself on your own.

Getting organized is the most frustrating part of estate planning, but it is the first step to understanding your family’s financial affairs. Start by preparing a detailed personal financial statement. Next, be sure you know where all of your important documents are relating to each asset and liability. Be sure that someone in your family knows where to find this information if something happens to you.

Details can be boring, but they are so important. You need to title your assets to properly coordinate with your estate plan. Asset titling is the most important, but usually the most overlooked, aspect of every estate plan. Mistakes are common and can lead to disasters.

Be sure you have a good estate plan in place. The word “plan,” by its very nature, implies that you take action in advance. The best type of estate plan is the one that works the way you want. The worst type of estate plan is the one that you never got around to doing!

A good estate plan carries out your particular wishes in the quickest, most cost effective manner. Be sure that your estate plan accurately gives what you have to whom you want in the way you want. It should also minimize the taxes and settlement costs that your estate will incur to maximize the amount left for you and your family. Most of all, your estate plan should reduce the burden and stress on your surviving loved ones to the greatest extent possible.

Use an attorney who specializes in estate planning to assist you with your plan. You would not send your severely sick child to just any doctor, or try to cure them yourself. Your financial and legal health should not be any different.

Once you get your estate plan in place, it is important to keep it updated regularly. That does not mean that you have to start over every year. At least have it reviewed occasionally – every year or two – to be sure it is up to date.

You should develop a team of professional advisors to assist you with your legal and financial affairs. Besides a good family attorney, you should establish a relationship with an accountant, a financial advisor and an insurance professional. Get comfortable with your professional advisors now because there will come a time when you need to rely on them for important advice and assistance.

Women particularly should take a more active role in getting to know your family’s professional advisors. It is important to have a good relationship with them so you trust them to advise you properly when needed. Set your expectations of them up front, and gain a mutual understanding of how and when you want to use them. Do not be afraid to ask questions. The only dumb questions are the ones you fail to ask!

If you are currently married, there is always a possibility that you may someday find yourself single once again because of divorce or the death of your spouse. Remarriage is always a possibility for which you need to plan. “Blended families” are becoming increasingly common today, and they present unique estate planning challenges. Lack of planning can cause devastating results, even if not intended.

This is only a sampling of the steps that women can take to gain greater control of their destiny. This does not mean that women should lessen the compassionate and nurturing qualities that they bring to the family’s estate planning process. You should expand your role, not lessen it. You owe it to yourself to gain a greater understanding of the issues that society has traditionally viewed as the man’s domain. You will achieve greater peace of mind as a result.

Be proactive in your planning. It will save you money in the long run and will greatly reduce your level of stress. After all, peace of mind is a wonderful feeling!

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