With statistics continuing to show that women live longer than men, but are more likely to be in a weaker financial position as they age, International Women’s Day is a timely reminder for women to take charge of areas such as their estate planning.
Anna Hacker, Wills & Estates Accredited Specialist at Australian Unity Trustees, says that while estate planning is important for both men and women, the reality is that women are more likely to feel the impact of badly handled estate planning.
“Statistically, women tend to outlive their male partners and will therefore find themselves in the position of having the deal with joint bank accounts, superannuation death benefits, life insurance lump sums, and so on, on their own, and usually at a time when they are most emotionally vulnerable.
“Unfortunately, this also means that women are most likely to experience elder abuse, where family members may try to sell their assets without their permission, force them to change their Will, or deny them control of their own funds.
“A well-prepared estate plan, developed with both partners when they are fit and healthy, is one of the best ways of avoiding this kind of ‘worst case’ scenario, and protecting women as they age.
“It’s also the case that women from older generations may not have worked throughout their adult lives, and may have left the finances in the control of their husband.
“Without a well-thought-out estate plan, including documentation of all assets and their ownership, such women may find themselves struggling to keep on top of their finances when they are on their own, and potentially even getting into financial difficulties.”
Ms Hacker says that some common misunderstandings include whether spouses can access joint bank accounts after one person dies; what happens if the bank account, credit card or utilities is just in the husband’s name; or what to do if their partner’s superannuation death benefit nomination has lapsed?
Ms Hacker also points out that women tend to be the primary carer of their ageing parents, which can come with its own challenges.
“It’s important that women are aware of the different options and arrangements, when they are looking after elderly relatives.
“For instance, if someone has lost capacity to make or update a Will, anyone with an interest (including carers) can apply to the Supreme Court to approve a Will for signing on a person’s behalf. This can be particularly valuable if other family members are attempting to claim assets.”
Estate planning for female trustees of SMSF is an issue as well, with statistics from the SMSF Association finding that following a separation, divorce or death of a co-trustee, women are more likely to make changes to their SMSF to align with their own investment goals while men are more likely to maintain the strategies already in place.
“This may affect the size of their estate down the track.
“Additionally, the research found that just under half of all SMSF trustees don’t have an estate plan in place should the death of a co-trustee occur, and statistically, it is more likely to be women left as the surviving trustee.”
However, Ms Hacker says estate planning isn’t just an issue for older women.
“Many young, single women don’t believe they need a Will – they think they are too young, or they don’t have any assets. But anyone who has superannuation, holds an asset, including the life insurance policy within the superannuation which could be worth hundreds of thousands,” Ms Hacker says.
Australian Unity Trustees was established in 2017 to provide a range of trustee services to all Australians including: estate planning; executor appointments and estate administration; financial attorney; financial and legal administration; and the establishment and management of personal, native title, community and charitable trusts. It is the first traditional trustee financial services licence issued since the establishment of a national licensing framework for traditional trustee activities.