Estate Planning Statistics by LegalZoom Staff

Estate Planning Statistics

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated estate planning activity in the U.S. But many Americans still remain without one.

by LegalZoom Staff
updated January 05, 2021 ·  min read

By most estimates, anywhere from 50–60% of Americans don't have a will. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the number of people who have created a will or estate plan, but most Americans still remain without.

Estate planning can be an uncomfortable topic to talk about, but it's an important one. If you own any assets at all—a house, a car, or a bank account—or if you have loved ones who depend on you, you should have an estate plan, no matter your age or amount of wealth.

Estate planning is a broad category that includes wills, healthcare powers of attorney, living trusts, financial powers of attorney, and other documents. Here are 53 estate planning statistics for a closer look at how common estate planning is among different demographics, why so many remain without one, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on estate planning.

man-filling-out-estate-planning-forms at kitchen counter

Estate Planning Statistics Overview

Estate planning activity has largely decreased over the past decade or so — dropping from more than 50% of Americans having a will in 2005 to roughly 30% having one today. Additionally, many families don't openly talk about their estate plans.

  • 32% of Americans have a will. (Caring.com)
  • The percentage of Americans with wills continues to decrease, with 44% saying they had a will in 2016 and 51% saying they had one in 2005. (Gallup)
  • 30% of Americans don't know if their parents have a will. (Brookdale Senior Living)
  • 40% of Americans don't know what's in their parents' wills. (Brookdale Senior Living)
  • Roughly $59 trillion will be transferred from approximately 94 million estates in America between 2007 and 2061. (Boston College)
  • Of this $59 trillion, beneficiaries will receive $36 trillion between 2007 and 2061, and $5.6 trillion will go to federal estate taxes. (Boston College)
  • Attorneys usually charge a minimum fee between $150 and $600 for a basic draft of a will. Drafting a will yourself is generally less costly, with sample templates available online for as little as $10. (LegalZoom)

Illustration reading: There will be a transfer of wealth of about $59 trillion among estates in America between 2007 and 2016. (Boston College)

Estate Planning Statistics, By Age, Race, and Education

Estate planning tends to be more common among white Americans and those with higher levels of education. Additionally, older Americans are more likely to have a will, but young adults — and anyone with assets — should also seriously consider formulating their estate plans.

  • You must be at least 18 and of sound mind to make a will. (LegalZoom)
  • 30% of American adults believe that you should write a will before the age of 35. (Caring.com)
  • The following represents what percentage of each age demographic have a will:
    • 14% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29. (Gallup)
    • 35% of Americans between the ages of 30 and 49. (Gallup)
    • 56% of Americans between the ages of 50 and 64. (Gallup)
    • 68% of Americans 65 and older. (Gallup)
  • 41% of Americans over 55 have end-of-life health directives. (Age Wave/Merrill)
  • 33% of Americans over 55 have a durable power of attorney. (Age Wave/Merrill)
  • Only 18% of Americans over 55 have a will, advance health care directive, and durable power of attorney. (Age Wave/Merrill)
  • White adults in America are about twice as likely as nonwhite adults to have a will (51% vs. 28%). (Gallup)
  • 61% of American adults with a postgraduate degree have a will. (Gallup)
  • 50% of American adults with a college degree have a will. (Gallup)
  • 47% of American adults with some college have a will. (Gallup)
  • 32% of American adults with a high school education or less have a will. (Gallup)

Estate Planning Statistics, By Wealth

Those with higher household incomes tend to write wills more often than those with lower household incomes. However, estate planning remains an important planning tool for those of all income and wealth levels.

  • 77% of American adults believe that estate planning is important for everyone, regardless of their wealth. (Edward Jones)
  • Among American adults with annual household incomes of $75,000 or more, 55% have a will. (Gallup)
  • Among American adults with annual household incomes between $30,000 and $74,999, 38% have a will. (Gallup)
  • Among American adults with annual household incomes of less than $30,000, 31% have a will. (Gallup)

Illustration reading: 77% of American adults believe that estate planning is important for everyone, regardless of their wealth. (Edward Jones)

Inheritance Statistics

Most working age people around the world plan to leave an inheritance to their children. However, the reasons for leaving an inheritance vary, from believing it to be the right thing to do to covering the cost of a funeral.

  • 74% of working age people around the world plan to leave an inheritance for their children. (HSBC)
  • Among Americans over 55 who plan to leave an inheritance, 47% will do so because they believe it's the right thing to do. (Age Wave/Merrill)
  • Among Americans over 55 who plan to leave an inheritance, 42% will do so to cover their funeral and end-of-life expenses. (Age Wave/Merrill)
  • Among Americans over 55 who plan to leave an inheritance, 38% will do so to give their family a sense of security. (Age Wave/Merrill)
  • Among Americans over 55 who plan to leave an inheritance, 32% will do so to give themselves the peace of mind knowing that their family is taken care of. (Age Wave/Merrill)
  • Among Americans over 55 who plan to leave an inheritance, 23% will do so to give their family something to remember them by. (Age Wave/Merrill)
  • 39% of adult men over 55 in America believe it's the duty of parents to leave their children an inheritance. That's compared to 30% of women. (Age Wave/Merrill)
  • 65% of Americans over 55 plan to give away some of their money while they're alive. Meanwhile, 8% plan to give it all away while they're alive, and 27% plan to give it all away after they pass away. (Age Wave/Merrill)

Why Is Estate Planning Important?

Passing away without a will — also called dying intestate — means that courts ultimately decide who receives your assets. To prevent that scenario, you should write a will and update it regularly. Additionally, proactive estate planning can allow families to bypass time-consuming and expensive probate court proceedings and cut down on family drama arising from estate disputes.

  • The probate process can cost up to 10% of an estate. Detailed estate plans can reduce the likelihood of a long, expensive probate process. (LegalZoom)
  • It can take anywhere from a few months to more than a year (or even years) to probate a will. (LegalZoom)
  • 35% of American adults say they have personally experienced family conflict or know someone who has experienced family conflict as a result of not having an estate plan or will in place. (WealthCounsel)
  • Americans over 55 cite easing the burden on their loved ones as the top benefit of estate planning and other end-of-life planning (Age Wave/Merrill)
  • 52% of Americans over 55 believe passing away without an estate plan or other end-of-life plan would be “irresponsible." Meanwhile, 22% say it would be “inconsiderate," and 14% say it would be “ignorant." (Age Wave/Merrill)
  • 71% of American adults say that having an estate plan would make them feel like a good spouse or parent. (WealthCounsel)

Illustration reading: 35% of American adults say they have personally experienced family conflict (or know someone who has) family conflict as a result of not having an estate plan or will in place. (WealthCounsel)

Why Do Many People Push Off Estate Planning?

Some delay estate planning because they believe certain common myths about wills — for example, that they are confusing or expensive. Others believe that they don't have enough assets to warrant writing a will.

  • 74% of American adults believe that estate planning is a confusing topic. (WealthCounsel)
  • 36% of American adults say they don't have a will because they haven't gotten around to it. (Caring.com)
  • 30% of American adults say they don't have a will because they don't have enough assets to leave to someone. (Caring.com)
  • 7% of American adults say they don't have a will because they believe it's too expensive to write one. (Caring.com)
  • 6% of American adults say they don't have a will because they don't know how to write one. (Caring.com)
  • 64% of American adults who work with financial advisors have never discussed their estate plans with their advisor. (Edward Jones)
  • Broken down further, only 34% of Millennials and members of Generation X and 38% of Baby Boomers have discussed their estate plans with their financial advisors. (Edward Jones)

COVID-19 Estate Planning Statistics

Interest in estate planning — especially online estate planning — has ballooned during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • 32% of adults under 35 said they wrote a will because of the COVID-19 pandemic. (LegalZoom)
  • Only 33% of American adults believe the COVID-19 pandemic has made it more important to create a will or estate plan. (LegalZoom November 2020 Survey)
  • More Americans were searching “online will" on Google in April 2020 — in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. — than at any other time since 2011. (LegalZoom Google Trends analysis)
  • “Online will" Google searches in April 2020 were most popular in North Dakota, West Virginia, Michigan, Montana, and Kentucky. (LegalZoom Google Trends analysis)
  • Searches for “online will" on Google in April 2020 were three times higher than searches for the same keyword in April 2019, as well as April 2018 and April 2017. (LegalZoom Google Trends analysis)
  • 54% of American adults would encourage a loved one with COVID-19 to create a will or estate plan. (LegalZoom November 2020 Survey)
  • Older Americans are more likely to encourage their loved ones with COVID-19 to create wills or estate plans. 45% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 said they would do so, compared with 58% of those 65 and older. (LegalZoom November 2020 Survey)

Illustration of COVID estate planning statistics

Tips for Estate Planning Successfully

Every estate plan should take into account four considerations: what should happen to your assets when you pass away, how you will help your family maintain its financial well-being, how you can avoid the often lengthy and expensive probate process, and how you can eliminate or minimize estate taxes.

Here are some estate planning best practices — as well as some common mistakes to avoid:

  • Consider whom you want in charge of your estate, whether it's an executor who can distribute your estate according to your will or a durable power of attorney who makes decisions on your behalf.
  • If you only create one document, create a last will and testament through which you can designate where your personal property goes after you pass away and name a guardian for your minor children.
  • Also look into a living will, which provides instructions on the types of medical care you want to receive if you can no longer communicate your wishes.
  • Modify your estate planning documents regularly and especially as you undergo major life changes (births, adoptions, deaths, marriages, divorces, property acquisitions, etc.)
  • Don't forget about designating who should take care of your pets.

Downloadable Estate Planning BinderMockup of estate planning papers

For help organizing your important estate planning documents and ensuring that loved ones have all of the information they need in one place, check out our downloadable estate planning binder.

In it, you can specify where to find important documents, express your funeral wishes, record important digital account passwords, and communicate your favorite quotes and life lessons. Print out the pages and assemble them into a binder. Then, let your family know where they can find the binder.

Download the estate planning binder

If you've been meaning to create an estate plan — especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic — but don't know where to begin, let us help. Our estate planning bundles guide you through the entire process of creating last wills and testaments, living trusts, powers of attorney, and living wills — all with the help of trusted, friendly attorneys.

Plus, there's no need to lock in all of your decisions the first time! We offer free revisions on all of your documents.

Ensure your loved ones and property are protected START MY ESTATE PLAN

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