A single legacy

Estate planning for single women

Key takeaways

  • Prepare your legacy strategy to include not only family and friends, but philanthropic goals you are passionate about.
  • It's a good idea to review your beneficiaries and how your assets will be distributed regularly to make sure they are up to date and reflect your latest wishes.
  • Discussing your wishes with people you trust as well as setting up key documentation helps you feel confident that your financial and medical wishes will be followed.

Estate planning advice is often catered to couples. But what about single people, particularly single women? UBS research shows that eight out of 10 women may find themselves single at some point in their lives due to death of a spouse, divorce or never marrying.1 And in those instances, a single woman may have different priorities, making it even more critical to have a well-coordinated estate plan. When it comes to planning your estate, here are some key things single women should consider:

Cover the essentials

When it comes to the basics of estate planning, one of your main priorities should be ensuring that your will reflects your latest personal and financial wishes. Emily Brunner, Senior Wealth Strategist, UBS Advanced Planning Group, notes: "Every state has a defined set of laws of where your assets will go if you die without a will." That means the state chooses if you don't.

This matters if you have special requests or you want specific wishes followed. Brunner offers common examples: "If you want to leave money to charity or there's a long-time, dear friend you'd like to leave assets to, the intestate laws aren't going to do that for you. You need a will to direct them."

It's also essential to set aside time to regularly review your will with your advisors, to help ensure that your choice of executor and beneficiaries, as well as your plans for how your assets will be distributed, are all up to date. If there have been any changes to long-term relationship, a review is especially important. In some instances, you might want to give assets or beneficiary status to a new partner or remove a past partner who's currently listed in your will.

Don't forget about your health

Also consider your long-term health. While married people may have a spouse to make decisions, single people need to make other preparations. There are important factors you should think about, including your wishes in the event you become sick or incapacitated.

Brunner thinks it's critical to create a few key documents that will provide you with legal protection and allow the person you choose to address your healthcare needs and make decisions that align with your wishes.

These documents include:

  • A healthcare proxy, which allows you to name a specific person who can legally make healthcare decisions for you in the event you can't.
  • A living will, which is a statement outlining your wishes for your end-of-life medical care. This can include advanced directives such as "do not resuscitate" (DNR) guidelines. You can create the rules around if and when you'd like these directives to take place.
  • A Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) release, which allows medical care providers to share what is normally protected private information with specific individuals so they can help make decisions that line up with your wishes.
  • People also frequently execute a power of attorney at that time, giving someone else the ability to make financial decisions for them if they can't.

As a single woman, it's important to discuss your end-of-life and medical wishes with the people you trust. That way, you can set out your terms ahead of time and feel confident knowing they'll be followed.

Life insurance matters

If you're newly single because your spouse has passed or you're in the process of a divorce, life insurance is one area where you'll likely have different needs. For instance, you and your spouse might have had single life policies so that each of you was protected in the event of the other's death. However, if you are now single with no children, the policy on you as survivor might not meet your objectives  anymore.

An Insurance policy review is also important for newly single mothers. In this case, Brunner highlights, "You might have income replacement needs " because you're the primary support for your children. Your advisor can help you find the appropriate life insurance policy and designate beneficiaries that will ensure your children have sufficient protection over the long term.

Prepare your Legacy strategy

Your advisor can serve as a trusted partner in helping you build a legacy you want— one with the potential to improve the lives of others. While single women with children will often leave their estates to their children, it's common for women without children to distribute assets to the children of their close friends or family members, such as a niece or nephew.

Including philanthropic goals in your estate planning is another option. A Donor Advised Fund (DAF) is a charitable giving vehicle that's easy to set up via an irrevocable contribution. Then, over time, you and/or your family or successors choose the charitable causes you'd like to support.

At the end of the day, estate planning "really is about self-protection," Brunner says. "Just like married couples, single people need to think about who is going to take care of you, who knows what your wishes are, and is the money going to be there to do what you want [it] to do."

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