Estate planning is the process of legally designating who will receive your money and property when you die. Traditionally, women may not have been as actively involved in estate planning, but in current times every woman should meet with an experienced estate planning attorney to discuss her situation.

And this is true no matter how much money and property a woman has. If you do not have essential legal documents in place when you pass on, state law will dictate who inherits your assets.

Historically, most women married, had children and often left personal financial matters to their husbands. By contrast, today women find themselves in so many different living situations:

  • Never married, with or without kids
  • Cohabitating, with or without kids
  • Divorced, with or without kids
  • Widowed, with or without kids
  • Remarried, with or without kids
  • In a same-sex relationship and, depending on the state, possibly married or in a civil union, with or without kids

Every one of these possibilities brings unique legal issues when it comes to inheritance, financial planning and related matters. So sitting down with a knowledgeable lawyer to learn how to be sure that your unique wishes in your unique life will be carried out can be crucial.

Your attorney may advise you to pass some things to loved ones as gifts during your life and some at death. Your wishes and needs, and tax and logistical considerations must all be taken into account in such decisions.

Some of the legal documents and related matters to discuss with your attorney include:

  • Will: A legal document setting out how your money, real estate, investments and personal property should be handled and disposed of at death; a place to name guardians for minor children, and to designate an executor to administer your estate
  • Trust: A legal vehicle into which assets are deposited for the benefit of one or more people (often children or people with disabilities); trusts come in many types and may be established during your lifetime or through your will at death
  • Beneficiaries of retirement accounts or insurance policies: You may be able to name beneficiaries of such assets, allowing them to pass outside your will
  • Joint ownership: Money, real estate and other types of assets may be owned jointly with a spouse or other person during your lifetime, allowing ownership to automatically continue with the other owner when you die

This just begins to touch on important estate planning issues for women. Whenever major life changes happen like divorce or the death of a spouse, a woman should revisit all estate planning issues again.

Another important area of estate planning to discuss with your estate planning lawyer is how to plan for possible future incapacity using such documents as powers of attorney and medical directives.

Source: Investopedia, “10 Estate Planning Tips For Women,” Angie Mohr, July 24, 2012