Statistics on Last Wills & Testaments

By Cindy DeRuyter, J.D.

Statistics on Last Wills & Testaments

By Cindy DeRuyter, J.D.

If you haven't prepared a will or other estate planning documents yet, you aren't alone. According to a 2017 survey by senior services resource Caring.com, more than half of the 1,003 adults surveyed said they had not yet taken action to document their wishes in a will. In fact, only 42 percent of respondents had estate planning documents in place. Taking action to prepare your will now can provide you with peace of mind knowing you have documented your wishes. It can also be a valuable gift to your loved ones.

Couple at desk with documents across from woman in suit

Differences by Demographic

While only 42 percent of the people who responded to the survey had wills in place, the number is even lower for parents of young children. Only 36 percent of people with children under the age of 18 reported that they had their estate plans in place.

Americans over the age of 72 are largely prepared, with 81 percent reporting that they have wills. That number dropped to 60 percent for those aged 53 to 71, to 34 percent for Generation X respondents (aged 37 to 52), and to 22 percent for millennials aged 18 to 36.

The Reasons for Delayed Planning

The Caring.com survey asked respondents who indicated they didn't have wills or other estate planning documents in place why they hadn't taken that step. Nearly one-half of respondents (47 percent) indicated their delay was simply due to procrastination.

It is natural to want to put off estate planning. After all, it is a morbid and uncomfortable subject to discuss. Sometimes people put off preparing a will because they think it's a difficult or scary process. Younger people also tend to assume they won't need one for years, so they often wait to start the process.

Nearly (29 percent) of survey respondents said they hadn't prepared wills yet because they didn't think they had enough assets to warrant estate planning.

The Cost of Dying Intestate

If you die without any estate planning documents in place, your estate passes according to your state's intestacy laws. This means that, in effect, your state legislature has written your will for you. You lose out on the opportunity to direct how and to whom your assets should pass when you die. Dying without a will also means you cannot nominate a trusted family member or friend as your personal representative or executor. The person the court appoints might not be who you want in control of winding down your affairs.

People with minor children who die prematurely and don't have wills in place also run the risk that their family members may engage in prolonged legal battles about who should have guardianship of children. As with the personal representative, the court might appoint a guardian you would not have chosen had you finalized your will before dying.

If you identify with the 58 percent of survey respondents who had not prepared wills, the best time to start the estate planning process is now because none of us knows what the future holds.

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