Women are breaking the glass ceiling, building steady careers, putting up their own businesses, and increasing their earning capacity. With women having more presence in the professional world, it’s becoming increasingly important for them to protect their hard-earned assets and take control.
This can be done through estate planning. Attorney Philip J. Ruce of Stone Arch Law visited WCCO to talk about estate planning for women, touching on its importance, how to protect assets, wills vs. revocable trusts, when it’s too late to plan an estate, and more.
Key Discussion Points
What is Estate Planning for Women?
When a person passes away, the assets that they have to their name will be divided among their loved ones. Without a will, the division follows the default rules of intestacy statutes whether they like it or not.
In order to have more control of the division and to be able to dictate where the assets will go, an individual should replace those rules with an estate plan. Estate planning is creating a document that reflects a person’s rules, plans, and values when it comes to the division of their assets. It overwrites the default rules and allows a person to control where their hard-earned assets go after death.
Why is Estate Planning Important For Women?
Women are shattering stereotypes and earning more than ever before. There has become a big shift in wealth and responsibility among women, which calls for a plan to control their hard-earned money. Women should be empowered to make their own decisions about their wealth and how they want it managed or divided.
Further, women are outliving men and hence, become the first stop for marital assets. It is predicted that women will control the majority of the wealth in the United States by 2030. That in itself is an important reason to get estate planning done.
Protecting Assets Through Estate Planning
In order to protect hard-earned assets, a person should make sure that they’re communicating their wishes. Plans work better in the light of day, so it’s important that women are voicing out their rules on dividing their assets in an estate planning document. With this communication, women retain control over what happens to their wealth after death and there’s less likely to be any anger and fighting among family members and loved ones.
An estate plan empowers a woman to decide who manages their assets, who settles the estate, who receives certain assets, who will take care of their kids, and more.
Including Kids in an Estate Plan
While the default rules of intestacy statutes include all children in the division of assets, the control given in estate planning allows a person to remove a child from their beneficiaries. This also extends to dictating whether the kids get equal inheritances or uneven shares. These provisions don’t happen automatically. Instead, they need to be done intentionally and be bluntly indicated in an estate plan.
Wills vs. Revocable Trusts
There’s a common misconception that having an estate plan allows a person’s assets to avoid court. However, that’s not completely the case. There are two common types of estate planning documents, a will and a revocable trust. Wills don’t avoid the court process of probate, but revocable trusts do.
A will is a document that controls probate and tells the judge what to do. It makes the court process happen on its own terms, dictating who is in charge of the estate, where the money goes, who the backup beneficiaries are, etc. While wills don’t avoid court, they do make the process of dividing assets easier for loved ones.
Also called a living trust, a revocable trust is a private family agreement where all assets go. Because it is a private entity, trusts do not go through probate and the assets in it are automatically transferred to the designated beneficiaries upon death.
Nowadays, women’s assets such as 401ks and IRAs are getting bigger. Hence, a trust may be a more viable option if they want to pass free of a judge. As long as the revocable trust has clearly outlined beneficiary designations, the transfer of assets is almost instant and as a bonus, is private and confidential.
When is it Too Late to Plan an Estate?
A common worry, not only among women but across all genders and ages, is that it might be too late to plan their estates. But it’s never too late to start creating an estate plan and taking control. Some people do it in their 20s and 30s, which is ideal, but there are also those who only start at 75 or 80 years of age.
Regardless, no one should feel guilty about not having an estate plan yet. It’s never too late, but it’s recommended that it be done as soon as possible.
Does a Will Need to Be Updated?
The assets that a person has now are not the assets they will have forever. As women continue to be successful in life, it’s important that they continue updating their will with their current state of life. Ideally, wills should be updated or redone every 10 years to avoid bringing an outdated will to court, which will cause more harm than good.
Why You Need a Lawyer for Estate Planning
Estate planning documents often involve complex language and legalese because they go through the court system. The terms can be confusing for a lot of people, which is why it’s important to work with an estate planning attorney.
A lawyer can help make complex terms more understandable and provide guidance through all the stages and contingencies. With an estate planning attorney, a person will feel more confident about what they’re doing from start to finish.
Estate Planning for Women at Stone Arch Law
Stone Arch Law has helped women of every stage of life plan their estates. For clients who would prefer to work with a female estate planning attorney, they can talk directly with Attorney Camry Fielders.
Contact Stone Arch Law today or visit stonearchlaw.com to access videos, resources, and free downloads to learn more about estate planning. To read attorney Phil Ruce’s full interview with WCCO, refer to the transcript below.
It is now 8:36 here at WCCO. Welcome back. You are listening to Steele Talkin’. I’m your host, Jearlyn Steele, and of course, it is time to talk about what women are doing. I don’t know if you listened last Sunday, but I had a guest that talked about how women are really thriving and doing great things, starting new businesses, getting big-time jobs and moving up into the C-suites of corporations. It really is remarkable what is happening to women today.
And so, since we are breaking the glass ceiling, women-owned businesses make up about 40% of all businesses in America. That’s right, 40% of all businesses in America. Woo, woo ladies. And 22% of women contribute the majority, if not all of their household to their household income.
Now, despite their undeniable presence in the working world, many women don’t have a plan for their hard-earned assets should something happen to them, so what does that mean? Well, we want to empower women. We want to continue to talk about it, how well we are doing for the whole year, and help them take control of their estate planning decisions despite a powerful presence in the working world. Many women are protecting their hard-earned assets.
So to talk about this tonight is an estate planning attorney, Philip J. Ruce, from Stone Arch Law. Hello, Philip, how are you sir?
I’m doing so well, thank you for having me on tonight.
Sure, appreciate it. So let’s jump right in. Where does the money women make go today? I mean, I’m sure years ago, decades ago, was a whole other story.
You’re right, and I think you’ve pointed out exactly what we’re seeing. Women are shattering stereotypes. I think estate planning is important for everybody, but on top of wealthier women in families, we also have an aging generation right now.
And what’s going to happen is, at least in heterosexual relationships or partnerships, as the male member of that relationship dies, women are going to be the first stop for that other wealth. And what that means is that women are going to control the majority of the wealth in the United States by about 2030.
So we’re seeing some really important reasons to get that planning done. I think dealing with grief is already hard enough on top of not having a plan, so I think what we’re seeing here is just a big shift in wealth and a big shift in responsibility with the female members of our family.
Yeah. You know, here’s the thing, I know that we’ve been talking about estate planning for women for a long time. I remember in the 1980s, people talked about how women needed to get on board with estate planning. And like you said, and some of the things I’ve also read that the women are doing this because they absolutely have to at this point, because we seem to live longer than a lot of the men.
And so, as I listened to estate planning, what it was, 20, 30 years ago, the process of protecting assets has changed, correct?
That’s right. Step one, always make sure you’re communicating your wishes. I think there was a time even when I was in law school, which wasn’t that long ago, in the early 2000s, when there was this stereotype of the husband dies first, has all the wealth, transfers it to the spouse, et cetera. And that’s just changing so much. So I think the first thing that we tell our clients is to always make sure that you’re communicating what you want.
We say that an estate plan works better in the light of day. So you can always write a will or write a trust and kind of hide what you’re doing. But if you communicate what’s going on, you’re less likely to have anger, you’re less likely to have fighting. You’re more likely to have the things that are important to you actually happen on top of that.
You know, I think there was a time when you could kind of assume that the kids would just kind of get it and that’s not really the world we live in anymore. There are some default rules out there that your estate’s going to do. Things are going to go to certain people, certain people are going to be in charge.
If you were married and that spouse died before you and you’re the surviving spouse, well, who’s next in line? Who would actually settle that estate? And not only that type of decision-maker, but also, as women are living longer, who’s going to be their healthcare taker? Who’s going to be their healthcare agent who can manage the money for them if they’re unable to do it on their own?
I think oftentimes, the will document’s kind of that main estate planning document that gets all the glory, but what about these documents that we sometimes consider also, like this healthcare directive and power of attorney? Sometimes it’s even more important.
I understand that, and at the same time, I’m curious to know, Stone Arch Law, if you have women there that actually do estate planning for women.
We sure do, we sure do. If you give us a call or check out our website, you can talk directly with Camry Fielders. We all work with all families, of course, but for those that would prefer to work with a female attorney, please call us, we’re a small firm.
Small meaning, you have about how many lawyers?
Right now, we have three attorneys accepting clients, and then we have staff as well. We’re right on the edge of Southwest Minneapolis and Richfield/Edina, kind of in that corner of the city.
Okay. Let’s talk about the women that are listening right now, how do you define estate planning for them?
The way I would define estate planning is, well, here’s what we have, so if you don’t do anything at all, the legislature has these default rules set up for you and this is what’s going to happen. And whether you like it or not, if you don’t do something.
What we want to do is we want to replace those rules with something else likely. We want your rules, your plan, and your values to be reflected in your plan. And the way we do that, there is a court process called probate. I won’t get too far into it, but it’s an administrative court process where if I die, if you die, if someone dies, their stuff goes through this process in front of a judge, the default rules control unless you overwrite them with a will document and a will is a court document.
I’ve heard people call us and there is sometimes a misconception that wills will avoid probate, if you have a will you don’t have to go to court, and that’s just not true.
A will tells a judge what to do. A will controls probate. It makes probate happen on your terms, which is why at the minimum, we want that. We like wills. Wills make your probate go the way you want it to go. Who’s in charge? Where does the money go? What are the backups? Some families are concerned, not just with things happening their way, but they also want to make it easy for their loved ones. So it’s not just a matter of things happening on their terms, but they want this probate process to be easy or to skip it altogether.
They’ll oftentimes use a different tool and I won’t get too far into it, but it’s called a revocable trust or a living trust. This is a will replacement. We do this instead of a will. And what we do is we want to make sure your stuff, so the family home, money, et cetera, kind of filters through this thing. And if it does, we get to use a private family agreement, a trust agreement instead of the will.
It’s kind of like a contract that we want to make. And these things will pass free of a judge. And not only that, especially as women are finding their 401K’s and their IRAs getting bigger, you have to make sure there are beneficiary designations on those. Don’t forget those have to match what your will or trust says. You want to make sure you’re coordinating those with those because those wills supersede the will if not done properly.
Right, so any woman that has children, you definitely want to look into a trust instead of a will. But so many of us have put our wheels together because we’ve been told that’s the document you need to have.
All the explanation for probate so that everybody knows what they’re supposed to get or what you’re leaving for them, that sort of thing. But now it’s really the talk of trust as you just said, a living trust, what have you instead of a will, correct?
I think so. And part of that is, you’re 100% correct. I think we’ve always been told wills are the key and they still are. I mean, they’re still a great tool, they’re oftentimes the more affordable way to set up a plan because there’s less to them. They’re an instruction letter for a judge, the revocable plan.
It all depends on what you’re doing, the costs are all over the board on these, but they oftentimes are more pricey. And for some folks, they don’t want to do that, and that’s okay. We don’t have different priorities for our pocketbooks.
I think the reason why trusts are becoming more popular and why people are seeing this more is because we’re in a little bit more of a litigious society. I think people are getting a little bit more worried about their privacy. They don’t even want their names in the phone books anymore, let alone their wills being subject to the public court system.
Right. I will say that a lot of it has to do with communicating with your children. If you have children, you definitely want to get or get to know what a trust is, there’s no doubt about that.
I think so too.
You know, making sure that your wishes are out there for your children is really important. One of the notes that I read said, to make sure that all of the children are included, is that mandatory?
It’s not. And sadly, we do occasionally do an estate plan where someone wants a child removed. Also, the default rules do absolutely include all the children someplace in that plan. And the issue then is if you did want someone to get that uneven share, or if you wanted the kids to get equal amounts, but another chunk to go to a charity, none of that happens by itself.
So you would have to intentionally do that and you typically have to do it pretty bluntly too. Again, that kind of goes back to this idea of keeping things in the light of day. If someone is surprised by the fact that everyone else is getting a third of the estate and they’re getting 1000 bucks, all the more reason for them to feel like they don’t have anything to lose. So if communication is possible, it’s not always possible, but if it is, it’s a very good idea.
Well, I tell you, everything I keep reading about estate planning seems to usurp the will. So I really encourage every woman, in fact, every family, to make sure that you communicate as much as possible about what you want at the end of life. What do you want to do with the money? What are your heirlooms? All of that really, really matters. However, what happens if women do not make a plan, then what happens?
If they don’t make a plan, and I’m going to leap back here a little because you had mentioned absolutely correctly that women are outliving men still. So what that means is in addition to the grief, now they are going to be settling the estate. Not only for the potentially deceased spouse, but now they have the assets and they don’t have that spouse or partner who will be settling their estate.
So if there isn’t a plan in place, it’s not too late, as long as you have capacity. What you need to create a will validly is you have to be over 18 and you have to have capacity. You have to know what you’re signing. If you haven’t done it now, it is not too late. It’s easier than you think.
That’s probably the number one thing we hear from clients. It’s easier than you think, and you should feel empowered to do this. As a father of daughters, I want my kids to feel confident and empowered that it’s their wealth and it’s their decisions, and they can get this on paper. Make sure you’re represented, make sure it’s done properly.
Yeah, that’s really important. A lot of times we don’t know that it’s done properly. So many of us don’t know about estate planning and how it really works. I mean, the language is a bit complicated sometimes, right? Complicated at times when you read some of these estate plans.
And so if you don’t know any of the languages, I believe the first thing we should do is say, what does that mean? Give it to me in writing what that definition is because if you don’t know what you’re signing, if you don’t understand it, you are in trouble from day one.
I love that you’re saying that. We get questions pretty regularly about why are these legal documents in legalese? Because they are, let’s be honest, they are absolutely in legalese. And there’s a reason for that, the reason is that if something goes wrong with this, this is going to go through the court system. And if it goes to the court system, now we’re talking to other lawyers and judges, so that’s who we’re really talking to when it comes to that legalese.
But if you’re working with an attorney who does this well, you should come out of the meeting having not been talked to in legalese, the conversation should be easy. You should come out of there, if you have the right lawyer, feeling like you are talking to just a regular person about your family, and they’re going to walk you through all these different stages, all these contingencies, and you should feel very confident about what you’re signing when it’s all done.
But absolutely, we’ve had people come in from other firms when they’re getting their plan done and they just drop a bunch of paper in front of us and say, I’m not quite sure what this is but I think we have to redo it. It happens.
That’s so true, so true. Okay, as we wrap up this hour, we have about two and a half minutes, and I’m curious to know if a woman has already been at that point where she really needs the estate plan, and she worries that it’s too late. When is it too late to do it?
It is honestly, it’s not quite never too late. The too late portion really is when you can no longer understand the documents. We have folks who come in regularly. They’re 75, they’re 80 and they’re almost hanging their heads low, like we know we should have done this when we first had kids in our 20s or 30s. But no one does. I mean, they should, but if you haven’t done it yet and you feel like, well, I’m the one who hasn’t done it, I feel guilty. You shouldn’t. We see it so often that folks who are well into retirement are doing this for the first time.
Okay. So as we wrap up, I have to know if it’s at the point now where so many women have the will they’ve been told over the decades, you got to have a will. They have the will and as they continue to be successful in life, do they stick with the will and change it a little bit, add to it a little bit, or is the estate plan the only way to go today in order to make sure that your wishes are made.
When it comes to a will document, what I like to plan out most is that because that’s an actual court document, you just want to be very careful that it’s accurate and that it’s up to date with current statutes in the state in which you live. If you’ve moved, you probably want to get a new will, or trust if you’re starting over anyway.
We typically say every 10 years. You wouldn’t submit most legal documents, you wouldn’t want to send them to a court after 10 or 15 or 20 years, and you want to keep those fresh. So redo that will every 10 years, honestly, if it’s time to redo it anyway, revisit doing a brand new will or definitely consider maybe a revocable to trust option, but they both work. They absolutely both work.
If people want more information from you, where do they go?
If they want to stop by Stone Arch, like the bridge, stonearchlaw.com. We have a ton of videos, we have some free downloads and resources, and a lot of information if they want to come to check us out.
Well, I sure appreciate you joining us tonight. Thank you so much.
Philip J. Ruce from Stone Arch Law. Thank you.