It's a generally accepted fact that women tend to live longer than men do. Women who marry older men are even more likely to outlive their husbands. This often means that women must be financially and mentally prepared to spend a number of years on their own.
While you should not assume that your husband will predecease you, are you prepared for this possibility? Most of the final decisions regarding family inheritances, charitable donations and taxes will rest on the surviving spouse. Are you prepared to make these decisions? Much of the family wealth will be held by the surviving spouse as well. Do you know how it should be disbursed upon your death?
Estate planning considerations for women
You may outlive your husband by many more years than you expect to. You do not want to put yourself in a financial bind in your later years. Careful planning can help you retain control over sufficient assets for your needs -- think assisted or nursing care -- while still preserving assets for your family.
Women often do not earn as much as men do, and many work fewer years than their husbands do. If your retirement savings is substantially less than your husband's is, your estate plan should address this inequality.
If you and your spouse designated each other as beneficiaries on life insurance policies, retirement accounts, pension plans and the like, remember to change your beneficiary designations after your spouse's death.
Issues of taxation
Tax planning becomes even more important after the death of a spouse despite the tax breaks that surviving spouses may have. You may take advantage of the unlimited marital deduction, combining his estate with yours tax-free. You may also apply your spouse's unused tax exclusion to yours by affirmatively electing to do so within two years of his death.
However, if the now-combined assets exceed the tax-exempt cap, your estate may owe substantial taxes at your passing. Keep an eye on the rising value and continued accumulation of assets during your life. Your estate plan should be reviewed and revised as needed to accommodate these changes.
Where to go for help
If your spouse handled many of the family financial and legal matters, are you equipped to step in and take over upon incapacitation or death? Think now about whom you can turn to for professional advice in those initial days, weeks and months.
If you have questions about estate planning or elder law issues, attend a free, no-obligation seminar, and learn about your options.