By Marty Wiggins

Guest Columnist

EDITOR’S NOTE:  “Give Well” is a weekly column written by Dawn Franks of Your Philanthropy, Kyle Penney of the East Texas Communities Foundation and representatives of The Women’s Fund of Smith County.

Mrs. Maryo Huff was a woman ahead of her time.  Born in Oklahoma in 1906, she later moved to Tyler, Texas, and married Bill Huff, a partner in the Reynolds and Huff road construction business.  She was a businesswoman in her own right, starting a sand and gravel company, and then owning a cattle ranch in the Winona/Starville area.  Mrs. Huff passed away in 1996 at the age of 90, but she continues to leave a legacy.

That’s because Mrs. Huff had the foresight to have an estate plan that included giving to her favorite charitable causes, ranging from education, to the ministry, to seniors’ services to healthcare.  Her bequest of $450,000 to the East Texas Medical Center Foundation allowed the ETMC Regional Healthcare System to open a medical fitness and rehabilitation center for the Hide-A-Way Lake community in 1999 – making that dream a reality.

Just like Mrs. Huff, we all have the capacity to exercise “will power.”  But incredibly, only about half of Americans age 55 to 64 – men and women – have any type of will or estate plan.  They may think they don’t have enough assets or that producing a will might be costly.  However, if you have a bank account, a home, stocks, life insurance, pension rights or any kind of property, you need a will.

A will protects those you love, by providing financial security for a surviving spouse and children.  It also enables you to make special gifts to certain people in your life.  For example, you may wish to leave a piece of jewelry to a niece, or a coin collection to a grandson.  A will simply gives each of us the power to distribute our assets in a meaningful, personal way – something a court cannot do.

Women, especially, need to think about using their “will power.”  Why?  It begins with the simple fact that women live longer.  From age 30 on, women outnumber men in the United States.  When you look at the demographic of age 85 and older, there are almost twice as many women living as men (based on 2012 data).  Therefore, there’s a high probability that the wife will one day become individually responsible for managing the assets that a couple has garnered throughout their lives.

In addition to longer life expectancy, women are a powerful financial force.  More than half the women with at least $3 million in investable assets report that their wealth was acquired through corporate employment, a professional practice or a family business.  In 2013, there were 8.6 million women-owned businesses in the United States, generating $1.3 trillion in revenue that year.  Even more important, women now own more than three-fourths of the nation’s financial wealth.  Senior women age 50 and above control net worth of $19 trillion.

When thinking about estate planning, it’s also important to recognize that women are more likely to give to charitable causes through both financial gifts and volunteerism during their lifetimes.  We give as individuals, and we give together – as evidenced by The Women’s Fund of Smith County and other giving networks across the country.

Taking all these facts together, it only makes sense that women would want to apply their “will power” in remembering the charities they love as part of their estate plan.  Such giving reflects your values and vision for a better world, and leaves a legacy of caring.  A bequest to a not-for-profit organization can be highly defined, such as a specific dollar amount, a gift of stock or a percentage of the total estate.  Imagine the impact if everyone in America gave even $100 to charity through their will!

If you need to make a will (or update one), talk to your family and do your research with legal and financial advisors.  There’s a wealth of information on planned giving, including potential tax advantages.

Women in America today are a powerful force for good.  Let’s strengthen that role by leveraging our “will power” – individually and collectively.  The process will empower you, inspire others and make a tremendous difference in the lives that follow.

Marty Wiggins serves as Director of the ETMC Foundation and the 2015 Chair of The Women’s Fund of Smith County.  Gifts – including bequests – may be made to The Women’s Fund at any time in support of our mission of leveraging women’s philanthropy as a catalyst for positive change.  Visit for information on Women’s Fund programs and membership.