I hate to break the news to the guys reading this, but we’re probably going to die before our wives.  First off, older women (65+) have a life expectancy of 20.3 years whereas older men only have an expectancy of 17.7 years, according to the CDC. 

Add that to the fact that most women marry guys that are two to five years older than themselves, and you’ve got the makings of a wife becoming a widow before the husband has a chance to become a widower.

What that really means is that part of the planning should be to make sure female spouses will be able to live out the remainder of their lives in the standard they have grown accustomed.

I understand gender equality has come a long way in the past few decades, but still, when most people think of estate planning, they think of wealthy older men such as Michael Bloomberg or John Rockefeller.  But, when you take into account what was said above, estate planning is a subject which has a significant impact on women.

And to add insult to injury, on average, it is the woman of the family who will end up putting her career on hold for caregiving duties (either to care for young children or aging parents.)  This means they will have, less or, no income or assets of their own. Their lower lifetime earnings also means they are far more likely to see their living standards compromised in retirement if proper estate planning isn’t done.

How can women ensure that this doesn’t happen to them?  The best answer is for every woman to take an active part in planning her estate.  If you are married, talk to your spouse about what will happen to your income and assets if your partner passes away first, leaving you a widow.  A loss of income will mean having to spend more of your assets to maintain your lifestyle.

Most married couples that I do planning for have what is typically called “Love me do Wills.”  I love you, you love me, whatever I have is yours, whatever you have is mine.  When we both die, then the kids get it.  And that’s fine.  Taking everything we’ve discussed into account, it’s then most likely going to be the wife’s Will that will be controlling where and how the assets go to the kids.

More and more women have some assets in their name only (and if you don’t have assets in your own name, you will if your spouse is the first to pass away).  It’s important not only to create a Will for these assets, but also to talk to your family about how these assets should be distributed upon your death.  Because estate planning is all about the details, be sure to bring your estate planner into the conversation so you can discuss the issue in specifics, not just generalities.

There are many reasons for being reluctant to start planning your estate: you don’t have time, your partner or spouse generally takes care of the finances, you’re just not a “numbers person” and the most famous, “if I do a Will, I’m tempting fate.”  But there’s one overwhelming reason to start: to protect your assets and your future.  This isn’t a job anyone should leave to anyone else.  Taking charge of your estate means taking charge of your life.