Most Know They Need a Will, But Few Have One: Survey

A majority say they just ‘haven’t got around’ to making a will
A father holds his two daughters

While most Americans recognize the value of having a will, fewer than half have actually taken the steps to create one, a new survey found.

In a poll commissioned by caregiving support site Caring.com, 76% of respondents agreed that “having a will was important,” but only 40% had drawn one up.

Since U.S. life expectancy is currently 78.6 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, many people might think they can put off creating a will until they are older.

As you might expect, the closer someone is to their 70s, the more like they are to have created a will. Among respondents, 66% of adults 65 or older have a will, but only 39% of adults between 45 and 54 have one, and just 34% of adults between 35 and 44 have one.

Among millennials, the percentage is particularly low, with only 18% of those between 18 and 34 saying they have a will or estate plan in place.

To come up with the data, market research firm SSRS polled 1,003 adults to find out not just what estate-planning steps they had taken, but also their reasons for taking—or not taking—action

The explanations given for not having a will also suggest that many Americans believe they have time to do it later. The No. 1 reason given by 54.3% of respondents was that they “haven’t gotten around to it.” This was followed by:

  • 23.9% who believe they don’t have enough assets to leave anyone
  • 6.5% who said it was too expensive to create a will
  • 6.5% who said they don’t know how
  • 5.4% who said they have no one to leave their assets to
  • 3.3% who said it takes too long to create a will

Societal factors such as education and race may also play a role in one’s likelihood to have a will, the survey suggests.

More than half of those with a postgraduate degree—56%—have a will, compared to only 39% of those with a bachelor’s degree or at least some college experience, and 28% of those with a high school education or less.

When it comes to race and ethnicity, 45% of White Americans have a will, compared to 31% of Black Americans and only 26% of Hispanic Americans.

It’s natural to want to put off planning for what happens after you die. But while the life expectancy in the U.S. is 78+ years, there is no guarantee that anyone will live that long.

By creating a will at an early age, you make sure your assets go to your loved ones regardless of when you die, as well as shielding them from any debt obligations. If you have minor children, it’s particularly important to make sure you have plans put in place should something happen to you.

If you’re unsure of where to begin, there are many options for writing a will including creating one online and even using an app.

Tamara E. Holmes

Tamara E. Holmes is a Washington, DC-based writer who covers personal finance, entrepreneurship and careers.

Comments and Questions