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Estate Planning for Women

Although estate planning is important for everyone, women need to be particularly concerned with the complicated issues involved for several reasons. First, women, regardless of their martial status, should have an estate plan to ensure that their wishes are carried out after their deaths. Second, women in general live longer than men, so a married woman needs to ensure that she will have enough assets allow her to live comfortably after her husband’s death. Third, women generally earn less than men, so a married woman’s income might diminish if her husband dies before her without careful estate planning. Our estate planning attorneys are particularly sensitive to the needs of women and can help set up a comprehensive plan to ensure that a woman’s wishes are properly taken care of after her death.

Frequently Asked Questions


Does a Woman Need an Estate Plan if She is Single?

All women need an estate plan, regardless of their marital status. Without an estate plan, the state’s intestacy laws will decide how to distribute a woman’s assets, regardless of her wishes. While a woman might not have a husband or children to receive an inheritance, she may have other relatives, friends, or charitable organizations to whom she would like to leave her estate. Our estate planning attorneys can set up an estate plan that reflects these wishes.

Does a Woman Need an Estate Plan if Her Husband Has One?

All women need an estate plan, even if their husbands already have an estate plan. Without an estate plan, the state’s intestacy laws will decide how to distribute a woman’s assets. All women have tangible personal property (clothes, jewelry, cars, artwork, etc.) that are held in their own name. Without an estate plan, the state will decide how to distribute these assets, regardless of the woman’s wishes.

Does a Woman Need an Estate Plan if All Assets are Held in Her Husband’s Name?

Even if all large assets (house, car, etc.) are held in her husband’s name only, it is likely that a woman has other personal property that she would like to distribute according to her wishes at her death. For example, a mother might like to distribute specific pieces of jewelry among her daughters at her death. Without an estate plan, the state’s intestacy laws will decide how to distribute her assets, regardless of her wishes. Also, if the husband should die first, leaving assets to the wife, she will need a will to reflect her wishes as to how these assets should pass at her death. Since husbands and wives sometimes die within weeks or days of one another, it is important to have their wills already in place. Our experienced estate planning attorneys can work with husbands and wives to arrange for the proper distribution of assets after their deaths.

Does a Woman Need an Estate Plan if All Assets are Held Jointly with Her Husband?

A woman needs her own estate plan even if all assets are held jointly with her husband. There is no way of knowing which spouse will die first, or if the surviving spouse will live long enough to write a will. Having a comprehensive estate plan in place for each spouse assures that the assets will be distributed according to both the woman’s and her husband’s wishes, regardless of the timing of their deaths.

Should a Woman Have a Separate Estate Plan from Her Husband? Should Husbands and Wives Have a Joint Estate Plan?

Our experienced estate planning attorneys strongly encourage husbands and wives to reason out their own plans. That does not mean that an attorney cannot represent both a husband and wife during their estate planning. Husbands and wives can sign a waiver acknowledging that they are retaining the attorney to represent them both while providing separate estate plans. These plans might be identical, but a wife should think through what she wants concerning her estate, not simply do what her husband wishes.

What Kinds of Estate Planning Does an Engaged or Cohabiting Couple Need?

An engaged or cohabiting couple should strongly consider making an estate plan so their wishes are honored. Engaged or cohabiting couples require extensive estate planning. Couples should provide for each other in their wills. Without a will, the state’s intestacy laws will determine how property is distributed upon one partner’s death. Intestacy laws are based on familial and marital relationships, so the surviving partner of an engaged or cohabiting couple may have no legal right to inherit property through intestacy, or will have to spend significant time and expense to litigate to receive assets. Naming the surviving partner as a beneficiary under the deceased partner’s will ensures that the surviving partner will inherit property according to the deceased partner’s wishes.

Engaged or cohabiting couples should also consider creating a cohabitation agreement outlining the legal relationship between them. They should also name their partner as the beneficiary of any life insurance or retirement accounts, and consider joint ownership of property.

Engaged or cohabiting couples should also consider granting financial and health care powers of attorney to each other. These documents allow one partner to make financial and health care decisions for the other partner in the event of incapacitation. Engaged and cohabiting couples should strongly consider the implications of granting a power of attorney to their partner in the event of an incapacitation. Incapacitation can last for years, so couples should strongly consider the implications of granting a power of attorney to their partner. Since an engaged or cohabiting couple are not in a legally binding relationship, the surviving partner could decide to end the relationship during the incapacitation, but still retain the power of attorney over the incapacitated partner. Our experienced estate planning attorneys can work with an engaged or cohabiting couple to explain the consequences of making these estate planning decisions, and design a plan to fit their needs.

What is a “Will in Anticipation of Marriage?”

Traditionally, any will made prior to an individual’s marriage is revoked once that marriage is official. This is based on the assumption that the individual would want to provide for their new spouse in their will. The will is considered revoked even if it specifically provides for the individual’s new spouse. A “will in anticipation of marriage” solves this problem by stating that it is being executed with the knowledge that the individual will be getting married in the near future. The will is written in such a way that it is not considered revoked once the individual marries. A will in anticipation of marriage usually states the date that the wedding is to take place, and often includes language specifying whether the marriage must actually occur for the will to be considered valid. Our experienced estate planning attorneys can assist soon-to-be-married couples with setting up this estate plan before their wedding.

What Kinds of Estate Planning are Needed for Minor Children?

Proper and thorough estate planning is essential for any mother with minor children. While it is very difficult for any parent to contemplate dying and leaving her young children behind, every mother should have an estate plan in place to ensure that her children are taken care of after her death.

Parents of minor children should ensure that their wills name a guardian for their minor children. The guardian will step into the role of parent and provide for the minor children until they reach the age of 18. This includes providing for the minor children’s housing, education, medical, and personal needs. Parents should carefully consider their choice for the guardian of their children, and discuss this decision with that person. It is also wise for parents to select a back-up guardian in case their first choice is unable to serve as guardian. Guardians must be appointed by a court in order to officially take on the responsibility of the minor children. While any guardianship appointment made in a will is not binding on a court, courts overwhelmingly take the decisions of the parent into consideration when appointing the guardian of minor children.

Parents of minor children should also consider the abilities of their children to manage any inheritance the child will receive. Minor children cannot inherit outright, so the court will appoint a financial guardian to control any inheritance the child receives until the child reaches the age of 18. Once the child becomes 18 she will have control over any inheritance that remains, regardless of her maturity with regards to handling money. Parents of minor children need to consider how to best ensure that their child’s inheritance can provide for the child. Very few 18-year-olds possess the maturity to handle large sums of money.

For this reason, our estate planning attorneys strongly recommend that parents of minor children consider placing their child’s inheritance in a trust. A trust is an arrangement where the parent (the Grantor) gives property (money, real estate, etc.) to another person (called the Trustee) to be held and used for the child (the Beneficiary). Putting the child’s inheritance in a trust allows the trustee to use the inheritance for the health, welfare, personal maintenance, and education of the minor child. The trustee could be the same person as the child’s guardian, but does not have to be. Once the child reaches a particular age as stated in the trust document (usually 25 or 30), the child can become the trustee, which allows the child to have control of the assets in the trust at an age where they are more capable of handling large sums of money. Our estate planning attorneys can explain all aspects of establishing and managing a trust to parents looking to ensure that their child’s inheritance best provides for the child’s needs.

What Kinds of Estate Planning Does a Single Mother Need?

While estate planning is important for all mothers, a single mother needs to be particularly concerned about setting up an estate plan to provide for her children after her death, particularly if she has sole custody of the children. Overall, a single mother needs the same estate planning that a two-parent household requires. Our experienced estate planning attorneys are particularly attuned to the concerns and needs of single mothers, and can assist in setting up a comprehensive plan to meet those needs.

What Kinds of Estate Planning is Needed to Provide for Physically or Mentally Disabled Children?

Parents of physically or mentally disabled children require careful estate planning to ensure that their children are provided for after their deaths. State intestacy laws do not contain any provisions for disabled children, so if the parents of a disabled child die without a will any inheritance will pass to the disabled child regardless of the child’s ability to handle it.

Parents of physically or mentally disabled children should consider appointing a guardian to take care of their child. The guardian of a physically or mentally disabled child will make decisions and provide care for a child who is unable to do so on their own. Parents should think carefully about this decision and discuss the responsibilities of guardianship with their chosen guardian. While any guardianship decision made in a will is not binding on a court, courts strongly consider the wishes of the physically or mentally disabled child’s parents when appointing a guardian.

Parents of physically or mentally disabled children should also establish a special needs trust (also called a supplemental needs trust) to hold any inheritance their child will receive. Physically or mentally disabled children are often eligible for many state benefits (such as Medicaid or SSI benefits). Eligibility for these benefits is often based on income, so a physically or mentally disabled child could become ineligible for state benefits if she inherits even a small sum of money from her parents at their deaths. A special needs trust is worded so that trust assets cannot be used to pay for the same services covered by insurance, Medicaid, or other health plans. The trust assets will be used only for any expenses that are not covered by these health plans. A carefully-worded special needs trust ensures that a physically or mentally disabled child will not lose her eligibility for public health benefits, while allowing the child to use the trust assets to improve her quality of life. Our estate planning attorneys are experienced in establishing special needs trusts and can carefully explain their benefits to parents of physically or mentally disabled children.

Can a Will Provide for Any Children Born After the Woman Dies?

The advent of reproductive technology, such as in vitro fertilization, as well as many women’s decision to have their eggs or fertilized embryos cryogenically frozen is a constantly-evolving area of estate planning. The status of the law is complex and changes frequently, so a woman who intends on cryogenically freezing their eggs or fertilized embryos are urged to contact an experienced estate planning attorney who can competently address her needs.

The majority of the confusion that arises concerning inheritance by a child born after the mother dies concern whether or not that child is considered a legal heir. Traditionally, only children conceived before the death of a biological parent are considered heirs, and a will that contains provisions for “children” will only include children conceived while the parent is alive. With the increasing use of reproductive technology to conceive children, many states have changes their laws. The Uniform Parentage Act (UPA), which has been adopted in some states, requires a written statement to that proves that the biological parent of a posthumously born or conceived child intended that her heirs include that child. For example, in Florida, a posthumously conceived child (a child conceived after the death of a biological parent) is not considered an heir and cannot inherit unless the will specifically provides for that child. Many states have implemented their own laws that differ from the UPA. For example, in Pennsylvania, a posthumously born child (a child born after the biological parent has died) is considered an heir and can inherit under a will if the child was conceived during the parent’s lifetime. In New Jersey, a posthumously born child must be in gestation when the biological parent dies and must survive for 120 hours after birth in order to be considered an heir. Posthumously conceived children are not considered heirs in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Because the law concerning posthumously born or conceived children is so complex, women should consult with an experienced estate planning attorney to ensure that their wishes concerning any posthumously born or conceived children are implemented.

What Happens to Frozen Eggs or Embryos after a Woman’s Death?

The use of cryogenically frozen eggs or embryos after a woman’s death is a complicated issue. Cryogenically frozen eggs are considered a woman’s personal property, and as such are included in the property of an estate after the woman’s death. A woman can devise her frozen eggs to an individual after her death, or leave part of her estate to be used for their continued storage.

The law surrounding frozen embryos is much more complex. Only three states (Florida, New Hampshire, and Louisiana) have laws concerning the disposition of frozen embryos. In the remaining states, the status of the law is less clear. Some courts have found frozen embryos to be “persons” under the law, while others have found frozen embryos to be personal property held jointly by the man and woman. If the court considers the frozen embryo to be a person, then the decision of what to do with it will be determined by whatever the court finds is in the embryo’s best interest. Overall, most courts appear to consider frozen embryos to be a kind of “in-between” state between personal property and a person. This uncertainty in the law can lead to much confusion, so any estate that includes frozen embryos must be handled by a competent estate planning attorney.

Our offices are located in Center City Philadelphia, Montgomery County, Doylestown, Allentown, Voorhees, New Jersey, and New York. We provide legal representation to clients in all counties in the state of Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

All Counties we serve in Pennsylvania:

Adams County, Allegheny County Armstrong County, Beaver County, Bedford County, Berks County, Blair County, Bradford County, Bucks County, Butler County, Cambria County, Cameron County, Carbon County, Centre County, Chester County, Clarion County, Clearfield County, Clinton County, Columbia County, Crawford County, Cumberland County, Dauphin County, Delaware County, Elk County, Erie County, Fayette County, Forest County, Franklin County, Fulton County, Greene County, Huntingdon County, Indiana County, Jefferson County, Juniata County, Lackawanna County, Lancaster County, Lawrence County, Lebanon County, Lehigh County, Luzerne County, Lycoming County, McKean County, Mercer County, Mifflin County, Monroe County, Montgomery County, Montour County, Northampton County, Northumberland County, Perry County, Philadelphia County, Pike County, Potter County, Schuykill County, Snyder County, Somerset County, Sullivan County, Susquehanna County, Tioga County, Union County, Venango County, Warren County, Washington County, Wayne County, Westmoreland County, Wyoming County, and York County.

All Counties we serve in New Jersey:

Atlantic County, Bergen County, Burlington County, Camden County, Cape May County, Cumberland County, Essex County Gloucester County, Hudson County, Hunterdon County, Mercer County, Middlesex County, Monmouth County, Morris County, Ocean County, Passaic County, Salem County, Somerset County, Sussex County, Union County and Warren County.

Estate Matters
The Klenk Law Blog



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