Beyonce said it best when she told us “Girls run the world.” This statement is true in many ways! Research shows that women are earning more than ever before, heading households, and are living longer with an estimated life expectancy of 81. So, how should women prudently plan as you prepare for retirement?
Imagine you have been working for a company for the past 20 years and you are eligible for retirement within the next five (5) years. You have two adult children who are starting out in their careers. You have accumulated retirement benefits and a life insurance policy from your employer. You own a home and are financially comfortable, yet not wealthy.
As a trust and estate planning attorney, I receive calls each week from women in similar scenarios with varied twists about what would a trust and estate plan mean for them. Well, let me confirm that your estate plan should reflect your goals and values . For each woman, that picture is unique. Let’s start by talking about what a trust and estate plan should look like for most women as they contemplate retirement:
First, depending on your circumstances, you may need a will and/or a trust for the distribution or management of your hard-earned assets after this life. Also, you should have a plan in place for incapacity (i.e., if you are alive, but unable to care for yourself). What that means is that you should identify trusted individuals to assist with your health (with an advance directive)and/or managing your finance ( with a power of attorney) if you are unable to take care of yourself. Particularly, when speaking of the retirement setting, a good power of attorney should account for Medicaid planning, if that becomes necessary. Because women are living longer, some may need nursing home care and may not have the resources to pay for it. In those cases of incapacity, your agent may assist you with applying for the benefit. On the other hand, if you believe you may not qualify for Medicaid because of your assets level (income and resources are too high), you should consider purchasing long-term care insurance should the need arise. Without these uniquely tailored documents, you risk being saddled with unintended costs, conflicts, and judicial interventions in order to protect or manage yourself or your assets during your life or after death.
Beyond the essential trust and estate planning documents, each woman should evaluate the value of their retirement plans and consider their resources as they approach distributions from their retirement asset. For some, this is a welcomed occurrence, and your minimum distribution can supplement your social security income and/or pension. But for others, it may increase your income beyond a beneficial level, resulting in an unwanted taxable event, thus requiring more complex planning with your attorney and/or financial advisor. Another consideration we enter retirement is ensuring you have enough life insurance. Insurance costs less when you are younger and I cannot stress the importance of obtaining insurance as early as possible, especially if you do not have an independently owned policy [not contingent on employment] you need to get one today. Life insurance is a vital tool in estate planning because it generally distributes outside of the probate process so long as you have designated beneficiary and permits your loves ones to have the benefit of liquidity while awaiting either the probate or trust administration process, which can take months.
In the scenario above, I would advise our soon-to be retired woman that she definitely should have an estate plan that mirrors her values for herself and for her adult children. Even if five (5) different women had on the surface the same fact pattern, we potentially could have a myriad of possibilities based on her goals and family values. I would evaluate her life insurance benefits and whether she needs supplemental or independent coverage. I would also speak with her the value of her retirements plan benefits in conjunction with her other benefits and ensure that she has her designated beneficiaries identified and the implication of any distribution following her passing. But most importantly, the goal is addressing her legacy objectives and help her achieve it.
E. Regine Francois Williams, Esq. is the owner and managing attorney at Francois Williams Legal. She assists client with their trust and estate planning needs in Maryland, the District of Columbia and Florida. She can be reached at Regine@fwilliamslegal.com