Statistics on Last Wills & Testaments

By A.L. Kennedy

Although everyone dies eventually, not everyone leaves a last will and testament in place -- or even knows how they would go about making one, according to research by legal resource center LexisNexis. Statistics on last wills and testaments show that if you're confused about your will, you're not alone. Talking to an attorney who practices estate law in your state can help you avoid becoming one of these statistics.

People Without Wills

Approximately 55 percent of American adults do not have a will or other estate plan in place, according to LexisNexis. This number has stayed relatively steady during the 2000s, even as the number of other estate planning documents Americans have -- like medical directives -- has increased. Among minorities, the numbers are higher than in the general population: 68 percent of black adults and 74 percent of Hispanic adults do not have one.

Probate Time Frame

Probating a will can take quite a bit of time. According to the Wisconsin State Bar, a complicated will may take over two years to probate, but even a simple one may take at least six months. The amount of time is similar in other states, according to the American Bar Association. Probate takes time because most states have minimum periods of time that creditors are allowed to respond, during which the probate estate cannot be distributed.

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Age and Cost

The people who choose to make wills are generally older. In the 1990s, over 90 percent of probated wills were made by someone who was 60 years old or older, according to the estate planning firm Morris, Hall & Kinghorn, PLLC. The firm estimates that probate costs American families up to $2 billion per year, of which up to $1.5 billion is paid in attorneys' fees.

Living Wills

A living will or medical directive is not a will that distributes your property when you die. Instead, it is a document that explains what medical care you wish to receive if you are incapacitated. The number of American adults with living wills increased between 2004 and 2007, rising from 31 percent in 2004 to 41 percent in 2007, according to LexisNexis. Meanwhile, 38 percent of adults have a healthcare power of attorney, which gives another person power to make your healthcare decisions if you become incapacitated.

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How Much Does it Cost to Create a Will?

More than half of American adults have no will, notes the American Bar Association. This is due in part to the general perception that will preparation is complicated and expensive. While lawyer time adds up fast, people with simple estates can usually prepare their own wills at very little cost -- and since a will lets you name your heirs and the guardian of your minor children, the costs of not having a will can be substantially greater.

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No matter how straightforward an estate seems, family members will likely have to go through a probate process in state court before the estate’s assets can be distributed to heirs and beneficiaries. If the costs involved in probating your estate outweigh its assets, your estate may be declared insolvent and your beneficiaries may inherit nothing. State laws determine the precise probate process for estates within their borders and settlement costs may vary among states.

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