The conventional gender roles are eroding quickly as women have made great strides in the world of business and politics. It has become increasingly uncommon to see the likes of June Cleaver walking the streets among us in the twenty first century. Yet, some things have not changed. Men continue to pass away at an earlier age than women leaving women solely responsible for the financial welfare of themselves and their families. Men, despite their traditional hesitancy to plan, must work with their wives to plan for a future without them. As Edward Young noted, “All men think all men mortal, but themselves.”
Since women live approximately seven (7) years longer than men, in the end it is the women that will be the ones to bear the burden of the financial, retirement and estate planning decisions made during the marriage. Among the senior citizen population (65 and older) more than three times as many women as men are widowed.
For the benefit of their wives and family, men must put aside their traditional hesitancy to plan, and work with their wife and family to ensure their families well-being upon their untimely death. Statistics provide that it is typically the husband rather than the wife that delays estate planning due to silly superstitions and procrastination. A recent survey found that one-third of men feel that they do not need estate planning. Frankly, this is a selfish act as it places widowed females in a precarious position.
According to the MayoClinic.com, men are at a higher risk of premature death then are women in most categories. Males are more likely to take part in certain lifestyle behaviors that predispose them to premature death. Specifically, men are more likely to smoke, drink, and use illicit drugs than women. Moreover, males are also more likely to behave aggressively and to take risks, which partially explain why males have a higher risk of dying from accidents, suicide and homicide.
Women experience unique economic realities. Women tend to live longer and fluctuate in and out of the workforce due to career interruptions for child birth and elder parent care. This means that women often qualify for much lower pension benefits and receive lower Social Security benefits due to their years employed and salaries attained, which cannot be increased by the husband’s pension or social security if the husband experiences an untimely death. Fewer years in the workforce, fewer years with a single employer, and lower pay are all factors that may contribute to a lower average pension for females. And, Social Security benefits are calculated based on a person’s highest 35 years of earnings. If a benefit recipient does not have 35 years in the workforce, the Social Security Administration will add zero-earnings years to his or her record to equal 35 years.
Moreover, women often have diminished retirement savings due to the health care costs for the spouse who dies first (usually the male). Women most often become the caretaker for their husband, which reaps immeasurable financial benefits by delaying the significant expense of placing the husband inthe nursing home. But, what happens when the widowed wife needs assistance, at an average monthly Massachusetts nursing home cost of approximately $10,000? Men must work with their wives to implement a plan to insure that the total health care and estate planning needs of their family is addressed. And, it is never too early to plan. One should be protected against the incapacity and the death of your spouse. There are certain documents that are essentials for those of us living in today’s active, uncertain society that protects our loved ones:
1. Durable Power of Attorney: A document that establishes who will attend to your financial decisions in the unfortunately event of your incapacity.
2. Health Care Proxy: A document that ensures that medical decisions are carried out in accordance with your intentions in the event that you become mentally or physically disabled in the extent that you cannot make informed decisions on your own behalf.
3. Will: A document that, among other things, provides for an orderly distribution of your assets. However, the above documents are just the tip of the estate planning spectrum. It is also important that people consider Medicare and Medicaid (MassHealth in Massachusetts) planning, interplay between long-term care and financial planning, use of long-term care insurance and housing options and alternatives to nursing homes to name a few.
Due to the male’s spirited lifestyle choices and the male tendency to die prior to their female counterparts, it is suggested that males stop procrastinating and begin estate planning immediately for the sake of their wife and family. According to MsMoney, eighty-seven (87%) of the poverty stricken in the United States are elderly women. Men…Step-up to the plate and do not allow your wife to be a statistic.
Todd C. Ratner is an estate planning, business and real estate attorney with the law firm of Bacon Wilson, P.C. He is a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and a recipient of Boston Magazine’s 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 Massachusetts Super Lawyers Rising Stars Award. Call Attorney Ratner at(413)781-0560, or email him at TRatner@BaconWilson.com.