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Self-Defense Guide to Estate Planning for Women

Aug 17, 2007
If you are a woman, are financially secure, and have assets that you expect to pass on to people you love and care for, you must make a suitable estate plan. It is vitally important to be aware of your rights and take appropriate steps to protect and ensure the disposal/distribution of your assets according to your wishes when you pass away. Whether you are in a relationship, or are considering getting married, or are already married, you need to protect your assets within your lifetime against any threat to their security.

Consider a few situations: your boyfriend wants you to have a joint checking account with him; or, your ex-husband does not want you to have any part of his retirement funds; or, your husband wants his estate to go to charity. Do you know how to protect yourself in such situations? Here we provide an insight into the pros and cons of such issues and answer some related questions. Though not exhaustive, it will serve as a guide in planning for your estate.

Whether you are married or a co-habiting single woman, you need to understand that you risk losing your assets if you co-mingle them with anyone else. Joint assets create joint tenancy, where each tenant has complete rights and authority over the entire joint assets. As a result, your assets risk being attached or seized to pay off the debts of your joint tenant, even though you have no liability or connection with his debts. Also, your joint tenancy with another person may prevent your children from inheriting such joint assets. So, you need to think carefully before you open any joint accounts or acquire any property jointly. In addition, you would be well advised to seek professional help before you consider going in for joint ownership of any of your assets with a non-spouse.

You have a legal right to a certain portion of the property of your spouse. This is known as an elective share. It means that even if your spouse wants to disinherit you, he cannot do so. The exact extent of the elective share differs from state to state. Some states mandate a fifty percent share. Plus, you also have protection with respect to the retirement funds of your husband. The law presumes that in the event of your husband predeceasing you, you are the beneficiary of his retirement plan. Even when you divorce, you are vested with a portion of your husband retirement funds subject to a QDRO (Qualified Domestic Relations Order) being included in your divorce agreement. This order assigns a portion of your ex-husband retirement distributions, in proportion to the amount of contributions that he made to his retirement funds, during the period of your marriage. However, you have a right to waive this through a spousal waiver document while in the marriage. But again, it would be advisable to seek legal counsel before signing any such document.

Pre-nuptial agreements are a growing trend nowadays. If you have substantial assets and children from an earlier marriage whom you want financially protected, a prenuptial agreement before a remarriage would give your better control over such situations. For a valid pre-nuptial agreement, each party should have a separate lawyer. If there is a common lawyer or if one party does not have any counsel at all, the agreement may be invalid.

You must also consult an estate-planning attorney about Advanced Directives, which are documents that are related to your health care wishes. These include a living will, which is a document meant for doctors or healthcare professionals about the life prolonging care you may or may not wish to have, if you happen to reach a vegetative state or are stricken by a terminal illness. There is also something known as a durable power of attorney for health care. This allows you to appoint a person to make medical decisions on your behalf if you happen to reach a state wherein you are unable to make such decisions yourself, whether at the end or at any other time of your life. You can have one or both, the living will and the durable power of attorney, at the same time. You can also discuss forming various types of trusts. Consult your attorney and take the steps that will ensure both your welfare as well as of those you love and care for.
About the Author
California Tax Help is easier than ever with former IRS agent and a Sacramento CPA Firm. To view our services and new articles for 2007 Estate Tax Planning please visit our award winning site http://www.april15.com.
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