Taking charge

I recently came across an article on the Forbes.com Web site written by Deborah Jacobs titled “Estate Planning for Women (and the Men Who Love Them).” The article cited a surprising statistic about U.S. population in our golden years—among Americans 65 years of age and older, 42% of women, but just 14% of men, are widowed. Women’s longer life expectancy, combined with some tendency to marry older mates and some lower lifetime earnings on average means that women are significantly more likely to see their living standards compromised in retirement if proper estate planning is not done in advance.

That article brought me to research some additional data points related to the difference between men and women in retirement age. Perhaps the most shocking statistic was that male widowers over 60 years of age are roughly 15 times as likely to remarry as their female counterparts!1

So why am I rehashing the statistics that might seem somewhat gloomy for women? Judging from professional experience and life observations, with which Deborah Jacobs seems to agree, it frequently appears that the male spouses tend to be more heavily involved in the estate planning process. Women sometimes take the supporting role and defer to their significant others to make the “right choices.” Reading these statistics made me appreciate the true importance of women taking charge and being highly involved in the process. After all, seeing the bare numbers makes one realize how heavily disproportionately women are effected due to frequently being the survivors in a couple.

On the flip-side, when men are the survivors, the likelihood that they will remarry late in life is significantly higher than with female survivors. The remarriage may shift the priorities with respect to donor intent at death and the dispositive provisions of the estate may not be what you envisioned together during joint lifetime. The children from the first marriage may no longer be the primary beneficiaries of the estate. While we have a tendency to avoid these conversations for natural reasons, be it an aversion to thinking about passing away or unequivocal trust in the significant other to make the appropriate choices, it is important to have the conversation about your ultimate vision of disposition of wealth and make sure that your voice is heard and captured in the estate plan. ■


1. Ken R. Simith, Cathleen D. Zeek; Greg J. Duncan; Remarriage Patterns Among Recent Widows and Widowers; Demography, Vol. 28, No. 3 (Aug., 1991), p. 366.

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March 2012Volume 17Number 3PDF icon PDF version (for best printing)