Caring.com’s 2022 Wills Survey Finds That 1 out of 3 Americans Without Estate Plans Think They Have Too Few Assets to Leave Behind

Written By: Daniel Cobb, Managing Editor

What You Should Know:

  • 1 in 3 Americans who have no will or living trust claim they don’t have enough assets to leave behind.
  • Americans who have had a serious case of COVID-19 are 66% more likely to have a will than those who have not.
  • Since the beginning of the pandemic, the number of 18-34 year-olds with estate planning documents has increased by 50%.

More than 50% of Americans think that estate planning is at least somewhat important, but only 33% have a will or living trust. When asked why they don’t have a will, 1 out of 3 respondents believes they don’t have enough assets to leave behind.

According a New York Times survey, nearly 9 out of 10 U.S. adults are concerned about inflation. This fear of inflation plays a critical role in how people perceive their own finances, causing them to believe their savings are worth much less. This often leads to people postponing or even abandoning the idea of estate planning.

“Inflation can have significant impacts on one’s ability to save for their own future,” says Patrick Hicks, General Counsel and Head of Legal at Trust & Will. “The current and potential financial strains amid the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing economic uncertainties have compelled many people to think they don’t have enough valuable assets to leave behind. A natural reaction during times of economic uncertainty is to look for ways to reduce costs by cutting unnecessary expenses. Unfortunately, it is a common mistake to focus too narrowly on the short term and overlook the importance of estate planning for the long-term future.”

While this sentiment about estate planning is understandable, this mentality may have long-term and costly consequences. “Estate planning isn’t just for the rich and it is about far more than the value of your assets,” says Hicks. “Even if you don’t have an expensive home, a large IRA, and other valuable assets to pass on, you can still benefit from creating a will or living trust. There is no minimum level of wealth required to have an estate plan, and every adult should look to have a basic plan in place to care for their own needs and the needs of their family.”

To help shed light on the importance of estate planning and the processes involved, Caring.com has once again partnered with YouGov to survey 2,600+ American adults to find out who’s engaging in estate planning and identify the reasons why or why not. Since 2015, Caring.com has conducted annual surveys to raise awareness about the importance of estate planning – especially to people who may not know how to create a will and those who think they don’t have enough to leave behind.

Our 2022 Wills Survey found that 50% more young adults (18-34 year-olds) now have estate planning documents than before the pandemic – but many others are still putting it off. Besides procrastination, a chief reason why is a perceived lack of assets – 1 out 3 people without a will say they don’t have enough wealth to leave behind. Another key factor to consider is the impact of COVID-19 on estate planning. We found that those who’ve personally had a serious case of COVID-19 are 66% more likely to engage in estate planning than those who haven’t.

Wills Survey Key Findings

Barriers to Estate Planning

1 Out of 3 Americans Without Estate Plans in Place Say They Have Nothing to Leave Behind

In 2022, simple procrastination remains the number one reason Americans don’t have a will, with 40% saying they haven’t gotten around to it. Moreover, out of those who don’t have a will, 33% cited they don’t have enough assets to leave behind – making this the second most common reason why people neglect estate planning.

Reasons other respondents cited as to why they don’t have a will include not knowing how to get a will (12%) and that they think that the estate planning process is too expensive (13%).

Reasons for no will chart

Highest Earning, Most Educated Americans Without Wills Are Most Likely to Cite Procrastination As Their Reason for Neglecting Estate Planning.

For those with the highest earnings, procrastination was by far the most common reason cited for not having a will. 63% of those who make $80k+ a year said that they “just haven’t gotten around” to estate planning, while those in the lowest income bracket were more likely to feel that estate planning wasn’t worth it given their lack of assets.

Estate Planning by Income Chart

This trend holds true for the most educated as well – nearly 2 out of 3 Americans with postgraduate education claimed that the main reason they have not engaged in estate planning is that they have yet to get around to it. In contrast, respondents whose highest level of education is high school or less were nearly half as likely to cite procrastination as the main reason for neglecting estate planning, and 33% more likely to feel that their lack of assets means that they don’t need a will.

Estate Planning by Education Chart

Overall, our survey indicates that the wealthiest and most educated Americans see a greater need for estate planning, but they’re more likely to drag their feet when it comes time to actually get it done than other demographic groups.

More Than 40% of Young Adults Haven’t Started the Conversation About Estate Planning

Age plays a significant role when it comes to starting the conversation about estate planning. According to our survey, 41% of young adults ages 18 to 34 haven’t talked to anyone about getting estate planning documents, and 1 out of 3 in the 35-54 age range has yet to start the conversation about estate planning. Meanwhile, 3 out of 4 older adults have discussed getting a will.

More Than 40% of Young Adults Haven’t Started the Conversation About Estate Planning

More Than 60% of Those Without a Will Haven’t Even Started the Estate Planning Process

Although 56% of Americans think having a will is important, only 1 in 3 actually has an estate planning document. Furthermore, 60% of those without a will said they hadn’t taken any action towards getting a will, living trust, or any estate planning document.

Our research shows that talking with a loved one is the most likely first step, as 1 in 5 of those without a will have had a conversation with a loved one about it, while only 1 in 10 has started researching online.

How far have you gotten in creating a will chart

The Prevalence of Estate Planning

Young Adults Are 50% More Likely to Have Estate Planning Documents Now Than They Were Before the Pandemic.

In the pre-pandemic world of early 2020, only 16% of younger Americans ages 18-34 had a will or other estate planning document. Fast forward two years and the number of young adults with a living will or estate plan has increased by 8 percentage points, a 50% increase from before the pre-pandemic. 

In 2021, the number of middle-aged adults that reported having a will dropped to an all-time low while the number of young adults with a will rose to an all-time high, with the number of young adults with wills even overtaking the number of middle-aged adults. This year, our research indicates a slight return to the norm, with middle-aged adults slightly out-doing young adults in terms of estate planning (27% vs. 24%).

That being said, younger adults are still much more likely to have a will now than they were before the pandemic, while older adults are slightly less likely to have one.

Percentage of Americans who have a will by age group chart

More Than Half of all Americans With a Postgraduate Degree Now Have an Estate Plan in Place

Overall, more education correlates with greater propensity to have a will or another type of estate planning document. In 2022, more than 1 in 2 respondents (54%) with postgraduate degrees said that they have a living will or estate plan – an increase of 15% since last year.

At the same time, our data show that Americans with less formal education are less likely to engage in estate planning. Among individuals with a 4-year college degree, 40% have a will, while only 32% of people with an associate degree and 26% of those who don’t have any continuing education have a will.

Percentage of Americans with a will by education chart

The Wealthiest Americans Are Increasingly More Likely to Invest in an Estate Plan

Our survey shows that the higher the income, the greater the likelihood that an individual has a will, living trust, or advanced health directive. Almost half of the respondents (48%) belonging to the highest income bracket of $80k+ said they have a will or another estate planning document. Since 2020, the number of wealthiest Americans with a will has increased by 7%.

Among those in the middle-income bracket, only 35% said that they have estate planning documents, while less than 1 out of 4 of those making under $40k a year have taken the necessary steps to get a will.

Percentage of Americans with a will by income chart

Black Americans Are Increasingly More Likely to Engage in Estate Planning, While Hispanics Are Less Likely to Have a Will than in Prior Years

In 2022, 29% of Black Americans said they have a will or another estate planning document – a 12% increase from 2020. Unlike in 2020 and 2021, Hispanic Americans are now less likely than Black Americans to engage in estate planning, with only 27% having a will. It’s concerning that the percentage of Hispanic Americans with a will in 2022 has decreased by almost 16% compared to last year – a new low over the last three years.

Percentage of Americans with a will by race chart

The Importance of Estate Planning

Nearly Half of those Who Don’t Have a Will Say that It’s Important to Have One

When asked if it’s important to have a will or living trust, more than 1 in 2 Americans (56%) said that it’s very important or somewhat important, but only 33% of Americans actually have one of these documents in place. Moreover, of those who don’t have will, nearly half believe in the importance of estate planning, showing a major disconnect between people’s beliefs about the importance of estate planning and their willingness to follow through and take the necessary steps.

How important is it for you to have a will chart

Nearly 2 out of 3 Americans Believe That You Should Have a Will by the Time You’re 55 (or Sooner), but Less Than Half of Those 55 or Older Actually Have One

63% of American adults believe that you should have estate planning documents by the time you’re 55 or earlier, but only 45% of those in the 55+ age group actually have estate planning documents. Again, this shows a serious disconnect between people’s beliefs and behaviors regarding estate planning.

By what age do you believe someone should have a will chart

COVID-19’s Impact on Estate Planning

Those Who’ve Had a Serious Case of COVID-19 Are 66% More Likely to Have an Estate Plan Than Those Who Haven’t

In 2022, nearly 1 in 2 (48%) people who had a severe case of COVID-19 (hospitalized, long-term symptoms, etc.) have an estate plan and are 17% more likely to have estate planning documents than those with a second-hand experience with Covid (a loved one who has had a serious COVID-19 case). Furthermore, out of all the respondents who haven’t had a first or second-hand experience with Covid, only 29% have a will – making this group 39% less likely to have a will than those with first-hand experience.

Prevalence of Estate Planning COVID-19 Experience Chart

Younger Adults Are More Likely to Be Motivated to Engage in Estate Planning by Personal Experience With COVID-19

41% of Americans ages 18-34 saw a greater need for a will or another estate document because of the COVID-19 pandemic. These young adults are considerably more likely to say that COVID-19 has motivated them to engage in estate planning than other age groups. However, only 29% of this group said that they were so motivated that they actually took steps to get a will or estate plan.

Did COVID-19 cause you to see a greater need for estate planning chart

Sadly, the age groups that could use a living will or estate plan the most were less likely to recognize the importance of estate planning, despite the presence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Only 22% of Americans ages 35-54 were compelled to engage in estate planning because of COVID-19. Meanwhile, of those who were 55 and older, a mere 13% said COVID-19 encouraged them to actually act on their estate plans.

Those Without Personal Experience With a Serious Case of COVID-19 Are Much More Likely to Cite Procrastination as their Reason for Neglecting Estate Planning 

Out of all the respondents who haven’t had a personal experience with COVID-19, 42% cited simple procrastination as their primary reason for not getting a will or an estate plan. In comparison, only 34% of people who have had a first or second-hand experience with COVID-19 claimed that they have yet to get around to getting a will or estate plan, showing that personal experience with COVID-19 goes a long way to remove the primary obstacle to estate planning – procrastination.

Main reasons why americans don't have a will by COVID-19 experience chart

What You Should Know About Estate Planning

While our data shows that the majority of people believe estate planning is important, the comparatively low number of people who actually have documents in place indicates a lack of education and familiarity with the process, among other obstacles. The brief explanations of the most important estate planning documents below can help you understand the process and which documents you may need to best plan for your future.

Estate Planning Documents

The three main estate planning documents you’re likely to come across are wills, trusts, and advanced directives. 

Wills

According to the Caring.com 2022 survey, wills are the most common type of estate planning document. Even those who do not have a will or know exactly what it is have most likely heard the term before. 

A will can be used upon death to dictate several different things, including how to divide up property, guardianship, debts, and more. For some people, a will covers all estate planning needs. But in some situations, such as for those who own large properties or predict any family disputes that could impact the will, further estate planning documents, like a trust, may be necessary. 

Trusts

Trusts are useful for several reasons, including providing more support than wills for those with larger estates, large amounts of property, or those who expect a disability. The most notable difference between a will and trust, however, is when the documents come into effect. A will determines who will become a beneficiary after the person passes away; however, trusts take effect as soon as they’re enacted (hence the term “living trust”). It’s also worth noting that creating a trust is more complex, and more expensive, than a will. 

Another reason that one may choose to have a living trust is to avoid probate court. “While everyone’s situation can be unique, a general rule is that the larger the value of the estate, the greater need there is for a living trust,” says Chas Rampenthal, General Counsel for Legal Zoom. “The main reason here is to avoid probate, which can be a long and costly process – especially for larger estates. Additionally, when a will goes into probate, it becomes a court document; a living trust, on the other hand, is not made public upon your death, so your estate can be managed in private.”

Advanced Directives

Advanced directives (also called advanced healthcare directives) stipulate a person’s wishes regarding end of life care and/or what is to happen if the person becomes mentally incapacitated or unable to communicate later in life. Like living trusts, advanced directives are designed to take effect during a person’s life, not after they pass. 

Despite its importance, our survey found that nearly 1 in 5 people (18%) do not know what an advanced health care directive is. This can be a mistake according to Phillip H. Palmer, ChFC, managing executive at The Chestnut Street Group. “Proper estate planning documents should include an advance healthcare directive, which provides guidance for your family and medical professionals in the event you can no longer make your own health care decisions. In an age of technology and medical advancements, much can be done to sustain life. The directive takes the pressure of making difficult decisions away from your family members.”

You can learn more about these documents by visiting Caring.com’s Guide to Advanced Health Care Directives

Starting the Estate Planning Process

In the wake of COVID-19, people are turning to remote and online solutions for all sorts of services – and estate planning is no exception. 

“Estate planning has a well-deserved reputation for being an archaic and outdated process,” says Hicks. “COVID has forced the industry to catch up with the times. Changes in technology have made it easier to create estate plans meeting or exceeding the quality available from legacy lawyers. Concurrently, changes in laws and regulations are making it easier to sign and store estate plans online, allowing more people to create a plan from the safety and convenience of their own homes.”

To learn more about online estate planning services, read Caring.com’s guide to The Best Online Will Services of 2022.  For many people, estate planning is a daunting task, but the process can be simplified by breaking it down into steps and asking yourself some basic questions. To learn more about how to get started creating a will, trust, or advanced directive, visit Caring.com’s Guide to Estate Planning.

Additionally, you can see previous versions of the Wills Survey by clicking the links below: