Regardless of one's current marital status, all women should view their estate plan through the eyes of a single person. This is because the majority of us will, at some point, be single.
Many women stay single by choice. For those who are married, the divorce rate is between 40% to 50%. The divorce rate is even higher for second (and subsequent) marriages. As for those lucky couples that "go the distance", where 80% of women survive their husbands.
This means that women need to plan for their long-term care and estate planning needs as if they will, one day, be single.
The first step on the planning journey is identifying a means to pay for any future needed long term care. Historically, the biggest turn off with long term care policies is that all accrued premiums are forfeited if the policy is dropped. Now, however, there are options called "hybrid" policies which have a retained benefit feature. I encourage all women to at least, educate themselves about the current plans.
Perhaps even more challenging than identifying a payment source, is appointing the person or persons who will be in charge of communicating our future care preferences to a physician or other health care provider. This is done in a"health care power of attorney" or "Medical Directive". Selecting a health care agent is, admittedly, a challenge for single women. This is especially true for those without children or whose children live far away.
I encourage my clients who don't have a "ready-made" care team to start recruiting and assembling their own. One's physician, attorney or accountant may be able to recommend a few geriatric care managers. Hospital discharge planning departments can also be a good source. I recommend "interviewing" these people in advance to determine whether there is a good rapport. If you cannot come up with an appropriate candidate, who you are sure is familiar with your thoughts regarding the end of life care, then I recommend opting for a living will instead of a health care agent. The "Living Will" is where we list all of our thoughts and preferences for future care that may be needed. This is the document where we can state our preference to have any needed care provided in our own home.
Next, comes who will ensure that your Will is properly probated. Failure to fill this position ahead of time means that a judge will determine who is your estate administrator. If you have no ideal candidates in your personal life, then I recommend a second "recruiting" process. A trusted friend, clergy member or financial professional may be a good start. To promote accountability, you may wish to name two people acting together. You can also reduce the scope of your agent's power within your documents to guard against the possibility of wrongdoing.
Ideally, you will sit down with each of your chosen care team members once a year to discuss future care and financial management plans. It is important to draft flexible documents so that you can replace your named agents whenever you wish. Once you take the smallest first step on this planning process, I promise that you will feel more empowered as you look toward the future.
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