Overall Findings:

  • Only 35 percent of adult Americans currently have wills 
  • Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) agree that the current economic downturn has made it even more difficult for them to plan for the future 
  • 44 percent of Americans that do not have an estate planning documents – including wills/living wills, power of attorney, and trusts – cite a greater focus on the “essentials” right now (e.g. paying bills, buying groceries, etc.) as the reason 
  • Nearly one in five (17 percent) Americans believe they don’t have enough assets to create an estate plan

Decline in Estate Planning Documents:

The percentage of Americans with estate planning documents across all categories (wills/living wills, power of attorney, and trusts) has decreased considerably since 2007. In 2004, 55 percent of Americans reported having estate planning documents, that number moving up to 64 percent in 2007, and declining to 51 percent in 2009. A breakdown of the specific estate planning documents includes: 

  • Will: 42 percent (2004), 45 percent (2007), 35 percent (2009) 
  • Power of Attorney (for finances or healthcare): 33 percent (2004), 46 percent (2007), 29 percent (2009) 
  • Trust (living trust or other trust agreement): 21 percent (2004), 31 percent (2007), 18 percent (2009)

Economic Downturn, Potential Cause:

Survey responses indicate that the drop in estate planning documents is partly due to the economic downturn which has caused Americans to be more concerned with meeting immediate needs rather than planning for the future. 

  • Seven in ten Americans (71 percent) believe that given today’s economy, it is more important to focus on saving money for immediate needs than long-term planning of their estate. 
  • Nearly three-quarters of Americans (73 percent) agree that the current economic downturn has made it even more difficult for them to plan for their future. 
  • For Americans who do not have any estate planning documents, 44 percent cite a greater focus on the “essentials” (e.g. paying bills, buying groceries, etc.) as the reason, 31 percent cite it’s not a top of mind concern right now, 11 percent don’t believe it is necessary and 9 percent believe it takes too much time to create one. 
  • One in five Americans (20 percent) that do not have estate planning documents report that this is because they believe their spouse and/or children will automatically receive any assets, and 19 percent feel it is too expensive.

Other Survey Findings:

In line with previous waves of the study, when asked the single biggest reason Americans have not created any estate planning documents, one in five (17 percent) claim they do not own sufficient assets to warrant an estate plan. Other reasons cited include: 

  • They don’t want to think about dying or becoming incapacitated: 8 percent (2004), 10 percent (2007), 9 percent (2009) 
  • They believe their estate will be taken care of appropriately if they die or become incapacitated: 8 percent (2004 – 2009) 
  • They do not know what an estate plan is: 4 percent (2004), 6 percent (2007), 7 percent (2009)

Those who are responsible for managing a senior member of their family report that the family member has a will in place, but interestingly, other forms of estate planning documents have declined among this audience. A breakdown of the specific estate planning documents includes: 

  • Will: 67 percent (2007), 65 percent (2009) 
  • Power of Attorney (for finances or healthcare): 67 percent (2007), 58 percent (2009) 
  • Trust (living trust or other trust agreement): 57 percent (2007), 38 percent (2009) 

About the survey:

The Wills & Estate Planning survey was conducted by the omnibus field services of Harris Interactive on behalf of Lawyers.com in December 2009 among a national sample of 1,022 Americans 18+ (balanced to census). The survey compared historical data from earlier Lawyers.com studies conducted in 2004 and 2007 that tracked demand for estate planning documents and included new, updated findings from 2009 that illustrate the change in Americans’ views on the topic over the past two years.


 

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