The Girlfriend’s Guide to Estate Planning

Women in the United States have a unique set of estate planning needs, not the least of which has to do with the fact that they outlive their husbands by an average of 7 years, and are more likely than their male counterparts to become the family caregiver. So why is it that so few women have these much-needed estate plans in place?

Wynne Whitman knows how important it is that women get involved in their own estate planning, and addressed the issue in her book Smart Women Protect Their Assets. Whitman was recently interviewed by, and had a lot to say about why creating an estate plan is not just important but essential—and not just for women.

One of the key points in the interview comes when Whitman points out that many people think estate planning is only for those with large estates and a lot of assets—this is not the case! Aside from the fact that most families DO have a lot of assets (once you take into account the value of your home and any life insurance policies) estate planning is not just about protecting those assets from estate taxes, “it’s also about planning for your children and naming guardians,” says Whitman, not to mention planning for your own health care and end-of-life decisions.

If you’re reading this and thinking “But I’m unmarried and don’t have any children, I don’t need to create an estate plan—” Think again. You may want your estate to help your nieces and nephews pay for college, or you may want to give a portion of your estate to your favorite charitable cause. Or perhaps you’d like it to go to your partner or best friend. You can be sure that none of these things will happen unless you have a plan in place.

At one point during the interview, Whitman was asked to define what makes an effective estate plan. Her answer is deceptively simple, but goes straight to the heart of why every person—man or woman, married or single, wealthy or just getting by—should create an estate plan. It’s not just about taxes and it’s not just about children, it is about both of these and more: “It is dictating what you want to happen.”