Many Americans Fail to Create a Will. Why that Matters.

  • Clifford M. Cohen,
  •   Retirement Planning, Wills
  •   Comments Off on Many Americans Fail to Create a Will. Why that Matters.

fewer americans are writing willsAs the number of people succumbing to COVID-19 continues to climb in the U.S., many Americans are thinking about estate planning. Demand for wills in particular has soared as people acknowledge their mortality. Still, a survey by and YouGov of 2,400 adults revealed that a majority lacks wills, and the number of Americans with estate planning documents like wills has decreased since 2017.


According to the survey, 25% fewer people have a will today than in 2017. The people surveyed provided several reasons why they have put off estate planning. Here are some reasons why Americans fail to create wills and why skipping an estate plan can do more harm than good.

Fewer Americans Writing Wills in 2020 than in 2017 conducts annual surveys to raise awareness about why estate planning is important. In their most recent survey, just 32% of the 2,400 people they approached claimed to have a will. This is significantly lower than in 2017 when 42% of Americans surveyed claimed to have wills. While many people still consider estate planning somewhat or very important (60%), there are now more people who aren’t sure whether they need a will or living trust (12%).


The survey revealed some interesting statistics regarding American’s attitudes and behavior regarding estate planning. Overall, estate planning is becoming less prevalent, even though it is clear that having an estate plan in place will save your relatives from complications that may arise if you die intestate.

What are the Most Common Reasons People Cite for Not Writing a Will? 

The survey cited 4 key reasons people have not created a will. These include:

  • Procrastination (people who responded “I haven’t gotten around to it”)
  • Lack of resources (people who responded “I don’t know how to get a will or living trust)
  • Believing they don’t have enough to give away (people who responded “I don’t have enough assets to leave anyone)
  • Believing they can’t afford to create an estate plan (people who responded “It’s too expensive to set up)


Other reasons people cite for not creating a will or estate plan include:

  • People don’t like to think about what will happen when they die
  • Believing that only wealthy individuals need to create a will
  • Waiting until they are older or become ill
  • Believing their families will harmoniously divide assets after their death
  • Believing they don’t have enough time to create an estate plan

Dying Without a Will Creates Complications for Your Loved Ones

If you die without a will, the state in which you live decides who will receive your assets according to its laws of descent and distributions. This is known as “intestate distribution” and varies from state to state. If you die without a will, the relatives you care about most may have difficulty receiving your assets. The court will follow the state’s laws of descent and distributions strictly. These laws seldom mirror the preferences of the deceased.


If you die without leaving a will, your assets may not go to the people you care about most. Here are two examples of how the state may divide your assets.

Example #1: You’re Single and Don’t Have Children

If you never married and don’t have kids, your parents could receive your entire estate if they are alive. If not, your siblings will receive your estate. If one of your parents survives, the court will divide your estate equally between your surviving parent and siblings. If there are no surviving parents, siblings, or descendants of siblings, your mother’s relatives will inherit half of your estate, and the other half would go to your father’s relatives. 


The court will not consider your relationship with any of these individuals when dividing your assets. If you do not want your relatives to receive your assets upon your death, you should create a will and consider naming your friends or favorite charities as beneficiaries.

Example #2: You are Married and Have Children with Current or Former Spouse

If you’re married at the time of your death, your estate may go to your surviving spouse entirely or split between your surviving spouse, siblings, and parents. This depends on the ownership of your assets at the time of death. Any marital or community property may go entirely to your spouse, while any separate property can be divided. If you’re married and have children with your current spouse, your entire estate may go to your spouse. If you have children from another marriage, the court may divide your estate between your spouse and those children. 

Don’t Wait Until it’s Too Late. Contact Clifford M. Cohen for Estate Planning in Maryland and D.C.

If making a will or trust is a priority for you, make sure you work with a knowledgeable attorney in DC and Maryland. Attorney Clifford M. Cohen has more than 35 years of experience helping clients plan their estates. Call (202) 895-2799 for a free consultation or complete our contact form