The Essentials of Estate Planning for Women
Estate planning provides a vital benefit to anyone who engages with it, but is often particularly important for women, who often find themselves in the role of primary caregiver in their families.
Norton Basu partners Zakiya Norton and Somita Basu share their expertise on the subject in this article, along with sound advice for women on ensuring that their assets and end-of-life wishes are protected.
Creating a succession plan which honours lifetime achievements and benefits loved ones is imperative for everyone but can be particularly crucial for women. Oftentimes, it is the woman of the family who feels strongly about protecting the children, the assets and the sentimental items which she holds so dear. Women devote themselves to the care and protection of their family, so they value the benefits of an estate plan which preserves their legacy and ensures that close relationships among family members endure.
A Woman’s View
As co-founders of Norton Basu, LLP, a minority woman-owned estate planning and probate law firm, we have counselled hundreds of women on matters related to law, finance and estate planning. Listening to their needs and desires has taught us many things, and primary among them is that each woman’s profile is like a snowflake. Her culture, history, ethnicity, education and experience all bring her to the point at which she is today and strongly inform her intentions to live beyond death by bequeathing her wealth to precious loved ones, preferred charitable organisations and cherished pets.
A Woman’s World
In many ways, a woman’s perspective on estate planning may be unique. As a daughter, mother, grandmother, businesswoman or wife, she may play various roles during her lifetime as it relates to the estates of herself, her parents, her partner and her progeny.
There are many reasons why estate planning is of vital importance for a woman. At different stages of life, she may be a single mother and primary breadwinner, the caretaker of her parents or grandparents, a newlywed, a widow, or a divorcee. Each of these life stages may thrust her into different roles and responsibilities which affect her and her dependents alike. Putting the proper plan in place, or updating a current plan, may be especially urgent for women.
In many ways, a woman’s perspective on estate planning may be unique.
Reasons to Create an Estate Plan (For Everyone):
Nearly everyone would be well advised to create a revocable living trust and will. Here are the top three reasons:
- To avoid probate
Probate is a costly, time-consuming and arduous public process. Saddling your survivors with the stress, expense and headache of probate is probably not how you would like to be remembered.
- To decide who is in charge and who will inherit your assets
A revocable living trust allows you determine how your estate is managed and what happens to your assets after your death.
- To enjoy benefits during your lifetime
It is good to know that your estate plan will kick in if you pass away, but the assurance that your trustee has the authority to access your financial accounts if you are incapacitated during your lifetime may be even more comforting.
Reasons to Create an Estate Plan (Especially for Women):
- To organise multiple inheritances
Women often inherit twice in their lifetimes – typically from their parents and a second time if their spouse passes away first. Often, they are the primary caregiver of older relatives, spouses and sometimes even adult children. Their nests may never be truly empty.
- To protect your children
While all parents have the best interests of their child at heart, a mother may be most focused on protection. Setting forth a guardianship document which appoints a family member or friend to raise her children is a far better strategy than allowing a court to make that determination.
Financial protection is of utmost concern as well. With her hand-picked trustee in control of distributing money to minor children, and possibly to adult children as well, a mother can take comfort in the knowledge that her beneficiaries will not have the ability to squander their funds due to the folly of youth.
- To avoid disputes in blended families
Most people would agree that being a stepparent is complicated. This becomes even more so with end-of-life issues at play. Women tend to live longer than men. So, when her husband passes away, a widow may be faced with disgruntled stepchildren who ordinarily would have inherited their father’s wealth at that time, but the assets passed to their stepmother instead.
If the stepmother joined the family when the children were at a tender age, they may have established a bond like the one they enjoy with their birth mother. But if the marriage took place in their adulthood, a relationship of this nature may not exist. That disconnection can make the entire process more difficult because the stepchildren may not feel compelled to cooperate.
Blended families can be a spiderweb of legal, financial and personal complexity, so getting the estate plan right can make a woman’s life easier.
Women of Colour
According to recent headlines, women of colour are less likely than white Americans to have executed a trust and will. One of the reasons for this may be the misconception that estate planning is only for the super-rich. Passing generational wealth is critical for minority women who wish to lead their descendants to success and elevated achievement.
Estate Planning Tips for Women of Color
- You do not have to be rich to have an estate (but it is also necessary if you are!)
While many of us envision mansions on the hill, swimming pools and yachting excursions when we hear the word ‘estate’, this word simply refers to everything you own. This includes, but is not limited to, banking and investment accounts, retirement funds, the home in which you reside, etc. If the total value of your holdings exceeds the probate limit in your state, a comprehensive estate plan is in order.
- Proper planning prevents poverty
Creating a trust and will is an unselfish act because the primary benefits will be enjoyed by your inheritors. That is also why it is vital for women of colour; passing wealth properly provides greater opportunities for those who succeed you.
- Select an attorney who understands your specific needs
Take the time to research and identify attorneys who are likely to understand your culture, family history and personal goals. Finding a lawyer who fully appreciates your wishes and caters to your individual priorities is ideal.
Passing generational wealth is critical for minority women who wish to lead their descendants to success and elevated achievement.
Take Charge Now
Make sure to keep track of assets such as banking, investment and retirement accounts. Check on life insurance coverage to confirm that there is adequate coverage if your spouse predeceases you. Life insurance proceeds to pay for final expenses or to pay estate taxes might be recommended.
For all women, taking charge of your finances and the future of your family is wise. You may outlive your husband or life partner, so the right preparation will allow you to press on with confidence.
According to Maya Angelou, “Women should be tough, tender, laugh as much as possible – and live long lives.” So, after you prepare for death, take a moment to congratulate and celebrate yourself. And then go live life to the fullest!
Zakiya Norton, Founding Partner
Somita Basu, Founding Partner
15951 Los Gatos Blvd Suite 1, Los Gatos, CA 95032, USA
Tel: +1 408-850-7250
Zakiya J Norton is a big-picture thinker who uses precision, sharp insight and a touch of humour to deliver innovative, top-notch advice in terms everyone can understand. Known for her ability to grasp the family history and personal intentions which inform each estate plan, she offers compassionate counsel and no-nonsense legal strategies in her affable, straightforward speaking style.
Somita Basu has a knack for unravelling legal, financial, and mathematical mysteries while paying meticulous attention to detail. Always analytical and objective, her tactical methods allow her to identify the optimal way to achieve any goal. With a thorough, hands-on approach, Somita expertly advises on complex matters with diligence and grace.
Norton Basu LLP is a minority woman-owned law firm that focuses on estate planning and probate issues. Through the utilisation of in-person seminars, TV interviews, podcasts, video presentations, articles and blogs, Norton Basu LLP is championing the use of revocable living trusts as a proven way to protect families from the expense and delay of the California probate process.