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Estate planning and gender-based life expectancy

Before doing your estate planning, you decide to look up the average life expectancy in the United States. If things go as planned -- if you don't get into a car accident, for instance, or suffer a fatal injury at work -- you want to know how long you have.

What you find, though, is very interesting. Men and women in the U.S. do not have the same life expectancy, and it's not even all that close. For men, it clocks in right around 76 years old. For women, it is far higher, at about 81 years old. That's a difference of five years.

Why is this? There are many reasons, from lifestyle choices to risk-taking behaviors. And it's true outside of the U.S., as well.

"This gender gap in life expectancy is true for all societies, and it is also true for the great apes," noted one professor. "Men are more likely to smoke, drink excessively and be overweight. They are also less likely to seek medical help early, and, if diagnosed with a disease, they are more likely to be non-adherent to treatment."

As you can see, there are some clear choices you can make to potentially extend your life if you're a male American. Avoiding clear dangers like obesity and smoking may help you live past that average of 76 years.

In terms of estate planning, though, the statistics suggest that men and women need to view things a little differently. Odds are that a man will pass away first, leaving his estate to his wife if he's in an opposite-sex marriage. His wife may then need to plan how to leave everything to future generations. It's important for both partners to know exactly what steps they should take.

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