Biannual seminar at St. Joseph's gets women thinking about estate planning

September 15, 2012


When an unexpectedly large number of people registered for a seminar on estate planning for women a few years ago, the Friends of St. Joseph's Hospital knew they were onto something.

"Usually we have about 20 people" at St. Joseph's-hosted educational sessions, said Bobbi Giles, director of development at St. Joseph's Hospital in Chippewa Falls, Wis. "When you see 83 attendees, you know there's a pent up demand."

Now offered twice each year at St. Joseph's, the free Women's Estate Planning Seminar is still packing them in. The audience, which generally ranges in age from 40 to 80, learn the rudiments of financial and estate

planning and how to express their preferences for end-of-life care. Female professionals including an attorney, a certified public accountant and a funeral home director discuss the importance of having an updated will, a durable power of attorney for health care, and the positive tax implications of including charitable giving in estate plans.

Attendee Linda Ahlen of Chippewa Falls said, "The whole seminar gave us the information to make our choices clear."

Evalyn Wiley-Frasch is former chair of the board of directors for the Friends of St. Joseph's Hospital, the facility's charitable arm. She said that board came up with the seminar idea while they were discussing how women and men differ in how they make decisions about charitable giving. For instance, a study announced last month from the Women's Philanthropy Institute at the Center on Philanthropy found that women of the Baby Boomer and older generations give more to charity than do men of the same age cohort. Though, particularly in the case of older generations — including older Baby Boomers and those who are the parents of Baby Boomers — women aren't always heavily involved in financial decision making because past generations saw financial planning as a man's role, said Wiley-Frasch.

Wiley-Frasch noted that at age 64 she is a member of a generation which experienced women's liberation — but not all women benefited from the movement. Some women — particularly those before the Baby Boom generation — "viewed the traditional role of men as decision makers" and so they did not always take part in financial decisions, she said. Wiley-Frasch said she realized that even today, in Chippewa Falls, "women's talents, skills and decision-making abilities were undervalued. Through a seminar for women only, presented by women, I hoped the accurate information and support would permit them to see they had a right to be involved in estate planning issues.

"My reaction (to the board's discussion) was that women should have access to information about charitable giving that will allow them to make their own, informed choices," said Wiley-Frasch.

Recognizing that discussions about estate planning can be fraught with emotion, the Friends board wanted to provide a comfortable, nonthreatening atmosphere for the women-only seminar.

The fall seminar is a luncheon, and the spring session is a dinner.

The luncheon tends to draw mainly women aged about 50 to 80, although most are in their 60s, said Giles. The dinner draws a working-aged crowd, generally in their 40s to 70s. Each of the three sessions offered so far has been at capacity for the presentation room.

Wiley-Frasch elaborated, "Of the oldest women, as was the norm for that generation, many were or had been dependent on their spouses for financial support and, therefore, probably deferred to them on estate planning issues. I think they wanted to know what their rights were."

In general, Wiley-Frasch noted, "For the younger group, more of those women were employed outside the home, were more comfortable making decisions on their own and more willing to plan for the future, even confronting end-of-life issues for the sake of their families."

Participants of all ages wanted to know what they could do to prod their husbands into doing estate and end-of-life planning with them. One woman brought a daughter who had been reluctant to talk about the fact that the mother was nearing the end of life. Another woman said she was in chemotherapy and expected to die in a few years and wanted to get her affairs in order.

For many, the seminar is a first step into that lengthy process, said Giles. Many women follow up with her office and with the presenters to learn more. Giles noted that while St. Joseph's does not directly ask seminar attendees to include the hospital in their estate planning, the Friends hope the information will "inspire them to one day think of us with a direct gift or a gift in their estate plan."

Attendee Ahlen, who is 63, married and retired, said she learned a lot at the seminar and has started to complete some of the documents highlighted by the presenters including a power of attorney for health care and a living will.

"It benefits you and your family to do it," she said. "It gives peace of mind to you and your family."

She said the seminar underscored for her the importance of being clear about one's wishes. "It's a reality, we all will pass from this earth and we need our personal choices to be carried out. And we want to take the burden off our families."

Despite the weightiness of the subject, Giles said, the tone of the seminars is warm, with presenters speaking in laywomen's terms and sprinkling their information with humor. Attendees say they feel comfortable asking questions. Giles said, "When we're in that room and it's all women, we all speak the same language. There's joy and camaraderie in that room.

"We leave feeling we've done a valuable service," Giles said of the planning team.

Women more vulnerable to financial pressures

Statistics show women can be more vulnerable to financial insecurity than are men:

  • Only 46 percent of women who worked in the U.S. as of March 2005 participated in a pension or retirement plan
  • Women live on average three years longer than men retiring at the same age, and so they require more savings
  • Women are more likely than men to work part-time, and thus are less likely to qualify for employer-based retirement plans
  • Analysis shows women invest more conservatively than men and receive lower rates of return from their investments

Source: U.S Department of Labor

Women lagging in financial literacy

Many women acknowledge they could be better versed in financial planning:

  • About two-thirds of women say they have little knowledge of financial products and services. They are less able to plan for retirement and more likely to fall victim to predatory financial practices, according to information from the White House Council on Women and Girls
  • Almost three-fourths of women feel anxious about their retirement and financial futures due in part to the recession (State Farm survey, 2008)
  • About 30 percent of women feel lost when it comes to finances; and an additional 31 percent are unsure of their financial planning abilities and feel uncertain about their financial security (State Farm survey)
  • More than 40 percent of women find it more excruciating to talk to their spouse about daily finances than to go to the dentist (State Farm survey)


Copyright © 2013 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Copyright © 2012 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.