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Sunday, September 15, 2002


Thailand's tough dream | Keep beneficiaries current



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Women in Thailand often start their own businesses, but are underrepresented in professional areas such as engineering, law and politics.




Tough dream to chase

Despite the entrepreneurial bent
of Thailand's women, they face
many workplace obstacles


By Niti Dubey-Villinger

Women in Asian societies have disparate levels of professional achievement.

Success in the professional arena has been complicated by the demands and requirements of domestic, household 'employment.' Barriers to women's progress in professional arenas are partly the result of traditional values, beliefs and perceptions and partly arise out of personal self-doubt and lack of encouragement in pursuing opportunities.

While economic factors like the financial crisis of 1997 play a role in hindering the development of women, cultural and historical developments have also played a role.

Thailand, specifically, is a unique country. It is Buddhist and, interestingly, was never colonized by a Western power. Though Thailand recently experienced one of the most severe economic crises in decades, its women are still visible players in the economy. Thailand does provide an environment that contributes to women's progress in the areas of self-employment (entrepreneurial activity) and a basic legislation that supports women's education and women's constitutional equality.

Women in Thailand have traditionally been very entrepreneurial. Often, women in rural Thailand established home businesses (small shops or stalls) and were responsible for financial matters in the family. Women who migrated to the cities would work for others (larger companies and organizations) initially, but once they achieved some degree of financial independence, they would again establish their own businesses, however small. Bangkok is replete with stories of women from the northern part of Thailand who toiled in factories or as domestic help and saved enough to start their own businesses -- such as beauty parlors or clothing boutiques -- in the city. Thus, entrepreneurial activity in Thailand is encouraged and available to women who are enterprising.

Although there are several success stories of women's advancement in the professional arena in Thailand, women in Thailand are underrepresented in politics and public decision-making both at the local and national levels. Women are also underrepresented in fields such as engineering, law and private industry. In terms of education and literacy, women fall behind men. They also are paid less than men.

But when encountering small-scale business enterprise, one finds women in the lead. Women are engaged in the production of all types of goods -- both inside and outside the home -- as independent business persons and as subcontracting home workers.

A serious disadvantage of this form of work is that women are paid only for what they produce and they are not able to receive any labor protections -- such as sick and maternity leave -- which are available to workers in established companies.

Female enterprise in the marketplace in light of the recent economic crisis in Thailand has drawn some attention to the problems women face in a professional capacity. Poor working conditions, lack of pay equity, hazardous work and child labor are some of the issues facing women. Furthermore, some jobs are monotonous, repetitive and menial. They do not encourage the development of women professionally. There is room for improvement, but Thailand's women are versatile and face challenges as they arise.


Niti Dubey-Villinger is an assistant professor of management at Hawaii Pacific University. She can be contacted at nvillinger@hpu.edu.



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Make sure your assets
go where you want


By Judith Sterling and Michelle Tucker

Here is the story of a very happy young Hawaii couple.

The wife received sad news that her ex-husband had died in a car accident. However, she received the good news that she was the beneficiary on his $200,000 life insurance policy. Since it had not been an amiable divorce, this was a big surprise.

She quickly adjusted to the windfall and she and her new husband used the proceeds to travel and open a small business. Her ex-husband had been intending to change the beneficiary on his life insurance but just didn't get around to it.

Beneficiary designations govern many of our most valuable assets, including life insurance, retirement plans, bank accounts, mutual funds, brokerage accounts, and sometimes even automobiles. Retirement assets alone account for $10.9 trillion, according to the Investment Company Institute and the Federal Reserve Board. Beneficiary designations direct those assets notwithstanding contrary provisions in a will or trust.

Old designation

Often we fill out beneficiary designations when we are not thinking about our overall estate plan.

For example, we start a new job and the human resources department gives us a stack of papers to read and another one to sign. We sign that we received the policy manual. We sign what our tax withholdings should be. We sign forms for health, life, dental and disability insurance. We sign a form directing what should be withheld for retirement and how it should be invested. Finally, we sign a form that indicates to whom retirement plan assets should go upon our death. By this time, we are exhausted from filling out forms and we may not give this as much thought as necessary. This designation stays in effect until completion of a new form.

If you started your job right after college and named your college boyfriend or girlfriend, he or she remains your beneficiary even if you are now married and have children. This might be fine if you married the boyfriend or girlfriend. However, if you ended that relationship and married someone else, your spouse could be in for a rude awakening at your death when your old flame gets all your assets.

No designation

If you never got around to filling out the appropriate forms, or if the person you designated, like a parent, died before you and there were no backup or contingent beneficiaries designated, the assets would go to your estate. This would bring the assets back under the control of your will. However, this creates additional problems. First, the assets would be subject to a probate proceeding. This is a public proceeding that can be time consuming and expensive. Second, this causes an acceleration of the income taxation of retirement plan assets and does not allow the surviving spouse to do a "rollover" of the assets.

Estate plan

Careful coordination of beneficiary designations with a revocable trust can ensure that your assets go to whom you intend. Such coordination allows for the deferral of income taxation until long after your death. A qualified estate planning attorney can help you prepare a comprehensive estate plan.


Judith Sterling and Michelle Tucker are partners in the Honolulu law firm of Sterling & Tucker, www.sterlingandtucker.com


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