2024 Wills and Estate Planning Study￼
Caring.com’s 2024 Wills Survey Finds That 40% of Americans Don’t Think They Have Enough Assets to Create a Will
Written By: Rachel Lustbader, Staff Editor
What You Should Know:
- Only 32% of Americans have a will, a 6% decline from 2023 and the first decrease in estate planning rates since 2020.
- Since 2023, 14% more U.S. adults give “a lack of assets” as their reason for neglecting estate planning.
- The number of White Americans with a will decreased by 3% since 2020, while estate planning among Black Americans increased by 19% since 2020.
- Young adults aged 18-34 are the only age group that has not seen a decline in estate planning rates since 2020.
In the last several decades, Americans have seen income inequality grow while in recent years inflation caused the prices of consumer goods and necessities to rise. Moreover, according to the Federal Reserve, lower-income households are more affected by inflation than higher-income households, contributing to rising geographic income inequality in the U.S.
Caring.com’s 2024 Wills and Estate Planning Survey saw this increase in income inequality trickle down to estate planning prevalence. For the first time since 2020, the number of Americans with a will has declined, with only 32% of Americans having an estate plan in 2024, a 6% decline from last year.
40% of people who don’t have a will say it’s because they don’t have enough assets to leave anyone. Notably, lower-income Americans were twice as likely to give this reason as the highest-income group, indicating that the current economic environment is disproportionally affecting them and making them feel as though they don’t need a will.
“Wills and estate planning are essential for everyone, not just the wealthy. Every person over the age of 18 should have an estate plan, no matter their financial situation,” says Patrick Hicks, General Counsel of Trust & Will, a digital estate planning and probate platform.
Many Americans may not understand all the different functions of an estate plan, as shown by the 35% of people who say they don’t have a will because they don’t have enough assets to leave anyone but have children under the age of 18.
Hicks explains, “Wills do more than handle financial assets – they allow you to control important healthcare decisions, designate what happens with your digital and social media assets, and provide specific guidance on how and by whom minor children should be looked after in the event of an emergency.”
Overall, the 2024 Wills Survey found a 6% decline in estate planning, and a 16% decline among lower-income Americans. Young adults aged 18-34 are the only age group that has not seen a decline in estate planning rates since 2020. 14% more Americans say they don’t have a will because they don’t have enough assets to leave anyone than in 2023. And while 64% of Americans say having a will is important, fewer than 32% have one.
To help shed light on the importance of estate planning for people of all income levels and showcase Americans’ evolving feelings about the process, Caring.com once again partnered with YouGov to survey 2,400+ 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 for those who have not created an estate plan. Read more about our methodology here.
Prevalence of Estate Planning
6% Fewer Americans Have A Will Than In 2023
For the first time since 2020, the number of Americans with a will has decreased. In 2024, only 32% of Americans have a will- a 6% decline from last year. Yet, 64% of Americans say having a will is very or somewhat important, on par with sentiments from prior years.
This disconnect underscores the importance of continuing to educate Americans about the importance of estate planning, no matter your income level.
19% More Black Americans Have a Will Than in 2020
Though the overall rate of estate planning in America declined last year, estate planning among Black Americans is rising. The number of Black Americans with a will increased by 8% since 2023 and 19% since 2020. Meanwhile, estate planning among White Americans decreased by 12% since 2023 and 3% since 2020, leading to growing equality in estate planning rates among the two groups.
However, estate planning among Hispanic Americans is down 3% since 2023 and a considerable 21% since 2020.
Young Americans With a Will Up by 50% Since 2020
Young Americans started engaging in estate planning at higher rates during the Coronavirus pandemic. Since 2020, the number of young adults aged 18-34 with a will has increased by 50%, going from 16% in 2020 to 24% in 2024. During the same time, the rate of middle-aged and older adults with wills decreased by 7% and 10%, respectively.
Millennials who have created wills in the last 3 years cited COVID-19, growing assets, and family expansion as their primary motivations. One 33-year-old said, “I had my will done this year because I have a child now and it filled me with anxiety to think my wishes for their care wouldn’t be taken into consideration.”
Rates of Estate Planning Among Lower-Income Americans Down 16% Since 2020
In 2024, the prevalence of estate planning has decreased across all income levels. The most notable decline this year is among middle-income Americans, whose rate of estate planning has decreased by 10% since 2023.
Since 2020, the biggest drop in estate planning is among lower-income Americans. For Americans earning $40,000 or less per year, estate planning is down from 25% in 2020 to 21% in 2024 – a 16% drop. This is not surprising given rising income inequality– Americans in this income group were the most likely to say that they now see less of a need for estate planning because inflation reduced the value of their assets.
Americans With a Post-Graduate Degree Are Almost Twice As Likely To Have a Will As Americans with a High School Education or Less
More than half of Americans with a post-graduate degree have a will, compared to just 23% of Americans who have a high school education or less. Worryingly, this gap between the most and least educated Americans and estate planning is growing.
In 2021, there was a 41% difference in estate planning rates between Americans with a post-graduate degree or more and those whose highest level of education is high school. In 2024, the gap has grown to 81%.
Additionally, since 2021, all educational groups have seen their rates of estate planning increase or remain the same except for the least educated group. In this group, estate planning is down 25% since 2021.
Inflation’s Impact on Estate Planning
Younger Americans 57% More Likely To Say Inflation Has Impacted Their View on Estate Planning
Overall in 2024, 42% of Americans say that inflation has impacted their view on estate planning, whether causing them to see more or less of a need for a will. The youngest cohort of adults, aged 18-34, are most impacted, being 57% more likely to say inflation impacted their view on estate planning than older Americans aged 55 or over.
35% of young adults say inflation has caused them to see a greater need for estate planning, while 20% said they now see less of a need, totaling 55% whose views on estate planning were impacted by inflation one way or another. Meanwhile, only 25% of Americans aged 55+ say they now see a greater need for estate planning and 10% see less of a need, totaling just 35% whose views were impacted.
One 34-year-old Millennial said that their finances and life stresses are holding them back from creating a will and that they’re focused on “investments, buying a home, etc.” They continued, “I guess this is selfish, but getting things sorted for while I’m still alive is higher on the priority list.”
Fear Over Loved One’s Financial Futures Due to Inflation Impacting Americans’ Views on Estate Planning
Inflation and the rising cost of living continue to impact Americans’ views on estate planning. Nearly 1 in 5 survey respondents said that they now see a greater need for estate planning because they worry about the impact of inflation on their heirs’ financial futures. An additional 12% said that they now see a greater need for estate planning because inflation has increased the value of their assets, such as real estate.
Alternatively, 9% of Americans said they see less of a need for estate planning now because inflation reduced the value of their assets, and another 8% said they see less of a need for a will because they had to sell off many of their assets due to inflation.
Black Americans Most Likely Racial/Ethnic Group to Change Views on Estate Planning Due to Inflation
35% of Black Americans say inflation has caused them to see a greater need for estate planning, while only 30% of Hispanics and 26% of Whites said the same. Black Americans are also the most likely to say that they now see a greater need for estate planning because inflation increased the value of their assets, at 17%.
Barriers to Estate Planning
More Americans Are Saying They Don’t Have a Will Because They Don’t Have Enough Assets to Leave Anyone
While simple procrastination remains the most common barrier to estate planning at 43%, an increasing number of people are deciding to forgo estate planning because they perceive they have too few assets to bother. In 2024, 40% of Americans say they do not have enough assets to leave anyone, compared to 33% in 2022, a 21% increase.
Lower-Income Americans Twice As Likely As Higher-Income Americans To Say They Don’t Have Enough Assets to Leave Anyone
Of the 40% of Americans who now say they do not have enough assets to leave anyone in a will, 49% are making $40,000 annually or less, compared to 25% who are making $80,000 or more- a 65% difference between the income groups.
The lowest income group was also the most likely to say that a will is too expensive to set up, while higher-income Americans are more than twice as likely to cite procrastination as their main barrier, at 56% and 32%, respectively.
Americans Who Have Not Attended Any College Are Most Likely to Say They Don’t Have Enough Assets to Leave Anyone
43% of Americans with a high school diploma or less education say they don’t have a will because they don’t have enough assets to leave anyone, compared to 24% of Americans with a post-graduate degree.
Interestingly, those who are most likely to think that setting up a will is too expensive are the most educated. 17% of Americans with a post-graduate degree who haven’t gotten a will say it’s because it costs too much to set up.
Almost 1 in 4 Americans Say Nothing Will Motivate Them To Get a Will
When Americans who do not have a will were asked what would motivate them to create one, 43% said a health concern or medical diagnosis, while others said purchasing a home or retiring would cause them to start estate planning. Worryingly, 23% said that nothing would motivate them to create an estate plan.
Why Americans Are Getting Wills
Men Are Almost 50% More Likely Than Women To Be Motivated By Media or Online Coverage to Get a Will
When asked what motivated them to get a will, 16% of men said media or online coverage, compared to 10% of women- a 46% difference. Men are also 31% more likely to be motivated by world events (such as natural disasters or wars) to create a will than women, at 15% and 11%, respectively.
Meanwhile, women are 22% more likely than men to be motivated by the death of a loved one to create a will.
Young Adults are 168% More Likely to say that Media or Online Coverage motivated them to Get a Will than Older Adults
Adults aged 18-34 are significantly more likely to say they were influenced by the media to get a will than older Americans. 34% of young adults said something they saw in the media or online motivated them to create an estate plan, versus 3% of Americans aged 55 or over – a 168% difference.
Compared to the older generation, younger Americans are more than four times as likely to set up a will before traveling. Only 5% of the 55+ demographic said they were motivated to get a will by upcoming travel, compared to 22% of those 34 years old or younger.
Higher-Earning Americans Are Twice as Likely as Lower-Earning Americans to Get a Will After Expanding Their Family
31% of Americans who earn more than $80,000 a year said family expansion motivated them to get a will, versus just 10% of Americans making $40,000 or less. Alternatively, Americans in the lower income group were 60% more likely than the wealthiest Americans to say a medical diagnosis or health problem motivated them to create a will.
The Importance of Estate Planning
Almost Two-Thirds of Americans Think Having a Will Is Important
64% of Americans think having a will is very or somewhat important, a figure on par with other years despite this year’s 6% decline in estate planning. Of those who said having a will is very important, 1 in 4 still don’t have one.
An Increasing Number of Americans Believe That You Should Have a Will by Age 35
In 2024, more than 1 in 3 Americans (36%) believe you should have a will by 35, compared to 32% in 2022, a 12% increase. Despite Americans’ growing feeling that it’s good to estate plan while you’re young, fewer than 1 in 4 Americans have a will by age 35.
What You Should Know About Estate Planning
While our data show 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.
According to the Caring.com 2024 Wills 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 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 (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, Caring.com’s survey found that nearly 1 in 5 people (19%) 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 healthcare 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
Today, people use remote and online solutions for all sorts of services – and estate planning is no exception. Though creating an estate plan used to be a long and complicated process, today’s online estate planning services make it a much quicker and less expensive undertaking.
“In the past, estate planning has been expensive and only available to those who could afford to hire a lawyer. Now, with more inclusive and affordable digital options, everyone can take this vital step to protect their families,” explains Hicks from Trust & Will.
Caring.com has conducted its annual Wills & Estate Planning Study since 2015 to educate American adults and raise awareness about the importance of estate planning. All 2024 figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov PLC. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all American adults ages 18 and above with a total sample size of 2,481. The survey was conducted online, and fieldwork was undertaken between December 3rd and December 4th, 2023.
To learn more about online estate planning services, read Caring.com’s guide to The Best Online Will Services of 2024. 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: