Let’s face it: Few of us marry and then begin planning for divorce or widowhood. But based on the statistics, that is precisely what we should do. I know this viscerally because I recently lost my husband.

Consider this: The average age of a widow in the U.S. is 59. (I matched the age statistic almost to the day.) And women divorce for the first time at age 30 (on average). Add to that, men tend to die five years before their spouses (76 for men versus 81 for women).

That equation doesn’t bode well for most women. Why do I say that? Because, according to a recent study published by U.S. Trust, 64 percent of baby boomer men are the dominant investment decision makers in their home, while 27 percent claim equal partnership with their wives. Only 9 percent of baby boomer women take on the dominant role of investing the family assets.

If women are widowed at 59, divorced at 30 and tend to live longer than men, we need a plan. A plan that reflects our goals, our understanding and our participation. This is important for women and the men who care about them.  

Here are five must-dos:

Get a planner

Couples need to engage equally in investment planning and decision making. In my 30-plus years in the investment business, women frequently excuse themselves from the conversation. Yet research shows women make better investors than men in both risk-on and risk-off investment strategies. Research also shows that because of their disengagement, when the “money spouse” dies (typically the male partner), the “non-money spouse” ends up firing her investment manager over  two-thirds of the time.  This is an expensive exercise and can be avoided. Engage. 

Review your plan

Review your trust every five years; if you don’t have a trust, get one – yesterday! Though I was the dominant investment decision-maker, and though we had established our trust some 30 years prior (and updated it numerous times over the years), I quickly realized it was dated. I had to go through a costly revision at just the time when I didn’t need the added headache and hassle.

Keep 401(k) and IRA beneficiary forms

This may seem obscure but it happened to me. The bank – the trustee of our IRAs – lost our beneficiary forms. Since we had opened those accounts decades earlier, I didn’t have a copy. It would be reasonable to expect the bank/trustee to retain those records, but I learned a hard lesson: Keep a copy of everything.

Include both names

All accounts and bills should include your name. This is particularly important for young women who are establishing credit. If you become a divorce statistic, it will be critical for you to have established a history with the utility company or the credit card company.  I can’t tell you the number of women I meet (of all ages) who have not established a record with creditors or service providers. We had one account without my name on it – our cellular bill. I have been down to our provider’s office three times, presented a death certificate, spent hours on the phone with no success in getting the account name changed. Avoid the hassle. 

Use a virtual binder

Consolidate your financial life on an aggregator.  Think of an aggregator as a virtual binder with a vault.  All of your assets and liabilities feed into this software, and you have a real-time picture of your net worth and income from all sources. The most appealing aspect of an aggregator is that it becomes a single point of contact for all things financial; no chasing down documents or accounts. They are all in one secure place.  

None of us believes we will become a statistic but, sadly, some of us do. Regardless, when the time comes you – and eventually your heirs – will be grateful you planned and engaged and invested.  


Visit the Women & Wealth page to learn about our resources geared towards women’s unique views of wealth management.