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Start caring for yourself as much as you care for others

Recently, someone asked about a situation in which she was caring for her live-in significant other, to whom she was not married, during a time when he was battling a serious health issue. Her complaint was that he had adult children who were not helping, and the couple was facing a financial crisis on top of the health concerns. The woman had been asking her own family for both financial and hands-on help just to be able to manage the situation.

Someone called from a hospital to inquire what her rights were because her significant other was in the intensive care unit, and his adult children did not want him put on a ventilator — contrary to her wishes. These situations are getting more common each day. For women, the following statistics, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, should be a wakeup call:

  • Women have an average life expectancy of approximately four years longer than men;
  • The annual gender-wage gap assessment shows that women make 80 cents for every dollar earned by a man;
  • Research from 2018 shows that adults living together outside of marriage continues to be more common;
  • According to AARP Public Policy Institute, an estimated 26 million women provided unpaid care for others during the prior year.

The woman in any relationship is likely to end up being the caregiver.

So, what do these statistics say about women? First, it points out what every woman already knows: The woman in any relationship is likely to end up being the caregiver. She is the one who likely will spend a significant amount of her time helping others without pay. Furthermore, since women’s salaries historically have been significantly less than men’s, chances are the woman will not have as much in terms of disposable financial resources. It also is likely she will have longer to live than her male counterpart.

Some legal protections provide security for spouses, such as homestead laws; however, if the couple is not married, the woman’s rights are diminished. Therefore, what should the woman do in the above situation? I suggest that every woman, before entering into a domestic live-in arrangement like the one described, should seek an attorney to get legal agreements like a trust, healthcare directives and/or HIPPA releases in place. A trust can “own” the joint assets and state the financial rights of the parties, during their life, during disability and after death. The healthcare directives and releases can be used in case of a medical emergency so that the woman in this situation can be involved in the decisions and talk to the medical personnel. Without such legal documents, the hospital or medical personnel must turn to the patient’s next-of-kin, which likely would be the patient’s adult children.

Women must recognize these realities and act to protect themselves and their families. They need to start caring for themselves as much as they care for the others in their lives.

Kathy Brown van Zutphen is an attorney licensed to practice law in Alabama and Mississippi. She focuses on the “elder law” areas of trusts, estates and conservatorships. Additionally, she litigates lawsuits and represents small business owners as part of her legal practice. Visit Kathy’s website to learn more: www. You can also reach her at her office: (228) 357-5227.


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