illustration of estate planning in action

40+ Estate Planning Statistics You ‘Will’ Want to See

I don’t know about you, but I plan on living forever.

However, just in case life throws a curve-ball, it’s probably wise to decide who gets my stuff.

All jokes aside, the recent global pandemic has really put estate planning into the forefront of our lives. In the blink of an eye, people went from planning vacations with their families to hospital beds. From not worrying about death, to having it stare them squarely in the face.

So yeah, life can and does throw curve-balls. The best we can do is be prepared for the worst.

Whether you’re planning for your self or estate planning for elderly parents, you’ll want to read through this collection of estate planning statistics and facts before putting pen to paper.

Estate planning statistics overview:

  • 46% of Americans have a will. (Gallup)
  • The number of Americans with wills is up to 46% in 2021 versus 44% in 2016. (Gallup)
  • Almost a third (30%) of American aren’t sure if their parents have a will. (Brookdale)
  • Over a third (40%) of Americans are clueless as to what’s in their parent’s will. (Brookdale)
  • 26.8% of those aged 18 to 34 have estate planning documents versus 22.5% of those aged 35 to 54. (Caring)
  • $59 trillion dollars of wealth is predicted to be transferred from 94 million estates in America by 2061. (Boston College)
  • 7.6% of Americans “don’t know how to get a will of living trust”. (Caring)
  • 58% of Americans without a will haven’t started thinking about it or making a plan. (Caring)

What is estate planning?

Do you have an estate? Believe it or not, you most likely do, almost everyone has an estate.

Your estate consists of all the things you own: your home, car, bank accounts, life insurance, additional real estate, investments (i.e. dividends), furniture, personal possessions, and so on.

But no matter how big or small, how valuable or inexpensive, there’s one thing all estates have in common — you can’t take them with you when you’re gone! So, what do you do about it all?

Well, to ensure your belongings are allocated as you would have liked after your passing, meaning they go to the people and organizations you care most about, you need to provide instructions.

Estate planning is just that, instructions on to whom you’re giving something of yours, what it is exactly that you’re giving them, when they are to take ownership of it, and any additional stipulations. Of course, you’ll want to try and achieve this in a tax friendly, low cost manner.

Estate Planning Statistics, By Age, Race, and Education

1. To make a will, you must be 18 years or older and of sound mind

(Source: LawHelp)

To make a legally binding will, that is, you must be at least 18 years old and of legal capacity. While will and living trust laws can vary by state, there are a few overarching rules, such as this one.

Also the will must be in writing and you must sign it in front of one or more non-beneficiary witnesses who are also 18 or older. Notarization isn’t required, but it is encouraged.

2. When should you write a will? 30% of Americans say before the age of 35.

(Source: Caring)

Concerningly, the percentage of 35 to 54 yea-olds with a will has decreased significantly from 2019 (37%) to 2021 (22.5%). Similarly, the percentage of those with a will and aged 55+ dropped from 60% to 44% since 2019. But the good news is that the number of those under 35 with a will has increased!

3. How many American’s have a will, broken down by age demographics:

(Source: Gallup)

In line with mother nature and human psychology, older people are more likely to have wills.

Age GroupPercentage
18 to 2920%
30 to 4936%
50 to 6453%
64 and older76%

4. 41% of Americans aged 55+ have some sort of end-of-life health directives.

(Source: Merrill/Age Wave)

End of life is the way you spend your final time on Earth. For example, where and how will you live, how will you be supported both personally and financially, and what medical treatments will you want or require.

Ideally most Americans would prefer to remain in control of such matters, and not become a financial or care-giving burden for anyone.

5. 33% of Americans aged 55+ have a durable power of attorney.

(Source: Merrill/Age Wave)

If you were to become incapacitated, who would have the legal authority to speak on your behalf? Who would have the lawful right to make financial decisions, as well as other asset and legacy-related calls on your behalf?

As you may have guessed, it is who you assign durable power of attorney to. Additionally, 43% of Americans are concerned they lack such a proper figure to look after their best interest in old age.

6. Only 18% of Americans aged 55+ have a will, health care directive, and durable power of attorney.

(Source: Merrill/Age Wave)

Though financial and life-planning experts advise people to have all three of the above in a comprehensive estate plan, fewer than 1-in-5 Americans over the age of 55 meet the criteria.

Interestingly, preparedness varies with marital status. Widows were found to be the best prepared demographic, with almost 1-in-4 (24%) having covered all three essential legacy planning steps.

7. 55% of white American adults have a will vs. 28% of nonwhite adults.

(Source: Gallup)

When it comes to the prevalence of estate planning among races, Gallup found that white adults in America are the most likely to have a will. In fact, almost twice as likely as their counterparts.

8. Of those American adults with a postgraduate degree, 61% have a will.

(Source: Gallup)

It seems the higher up you go in the academic world, the higher your chances of having a will.

9. Of those American adults with a college degree, 57% have a will.

(Source: Gallup)

1-in-2 Americans with a college degree are estimated to have a will according to Gallup.

10. Of those American adults with some college, 47% have a will.

(Source: Gallup)

Americans who attempted college and decided it wasn’t right for them, stayed long enough to get ‘some college’ but not a formal degree, or those who have started but not yet finished.

11. 40% of American adults with a high school education or less have a will.

(Source: Gallup)

You don’t have to go to college to know the benefits of drafting a will and legacy planning. Yet the numbers show that those who do attend are more likely to have a life planning document readied.

Estate Planning Statistics, By Wealth

12. The majority of American adults (77%) believe estate planning is important for everyone, regardless of your wealth.

(Source: Caring, Gallup)

With older adults leading the way in this sentiment. Despite a majority believing in them, only 46% of Americans actually have a will and are on track with their estate planning documentation.

13. 61% of American adults with an annual household income of $100,000 or more have a will.

(Source: Caring, Gallup)

Those making six figures were the most likely to have estate planning documents prepared.

14. 49% of American adults with a yearly household income between $40,000 and $99,999 have a will.

(Source: Caring, Gallup)

Almost half of American adults making over $40,000 but under $100,000 have a will.

15. Just 30% of American adults with annual household incomes under $40,000 have a will.

(Source: Caring, Gallup)

Whereas almost 50% of those making over $40,000 have a will, just 30% of those below this income threshold have a will in place to ensure their assets are accounted for after they pass.

Inheritance Statistics

16. Over two-thirds (74%) of the working age global population plan to leave some type of inheritance to their children.

(Source: HSBC)

Unlike some of the dispiriting retirement savings statistics we’ve run into that show people outliving their income, some people have the opposite problem, too much wealth. And they have to decide whether to spend it or leave it be for the next generation as an inheritance.

Now, whether it’s a lot of wealth or not, most people plan to leave some type of inheritance for their kids. Furthermore, 66% of those who have received or stand to receive an inheritance say it will help fund their retirement. Another 27% say it will fully or mostly fund their retirement.

17. 47% of those Americans aged 55 and over, planning to leave an inheritance, express doing so because “it’s the right thing to do”.

(Source: Merrill/Age Wave)

It’s like the old saying about money goes, “you can’t take it with you when you’re gone!” Indeed, almost half of Americans over the age of 55 say they plan to leave an inheritance for their kids.

But this leaves us with 53% who don’t plan on doing so! In general, the survey showed men feeling more obligated than women, Latinos and Asians feeling more obligated than Africans and Caucasians, and 55% of Millennials saying it’s a parents obligation to leave an inheritance.

18. 42% of those Americans aged 55 and over, planning to leave an inheritance, expressed doing so to “pay for their own funeral and end-of-life costs”.

(Source: Merrill/Age Wave)

The second most common reason for leaving an inheritance, as listed by American adults aged 55 and over, was to cover the expenses related to their passing.

19. 38% of those Americans aged 55 and over planning to leave an inheritance, do so to “leave their family with some financial security”.

(Source: Merrill/Age Wave)

As many life insurance statistics tend to illustrate, the importance of leaving your family financially secure after your passing cannot be overstated. Indeed, it’s no wonder almost 40% of Americans 55 and over who plan to leave an inheritance list this as one of their main objectives.

20. 32% of those Americans aged 55 planning to leave an inheritance, express doing so to “gain mental clarity knowing their family will be taken care of”.

(Source: Merrill/Age Wave)

Sitting down and properly estate planning can certainly be one of the most boring things you’ll ever do in your life. Conversely, it could also bring you the biggest sense of relief you’ve experience in a long time. Because it can give you peace of mind knowing that your loved ones are protected.

21. 23% of those Americans aged 55 planning to leave an inheritance, do so in order to “give their family something to remember them by”.

(Source: Merrill/Age Wave)

In addition to all the fond memories, a near quarter of Americans over the age of 55 who plan to leave an inheritance list this very emotional reason for doing so. Money certainly won’t replace them, but it will help make the lives of their loved ones somewhat easier when they’re gone.

And if you’re unaware of just how much Americans need money, I have some average American saving stats you need to see. A significant amount of households couldn’t cover a $400 emergency.

22. 30% of adult American women and 39% of men believe parents have a duty to leave their children with an inheritance.

(Source: Merrill/Age Wave)

Men seem slightly more inclined than women to feel an obligation when it comes to leaving an inheritance to their children. On top of this, 87% of Americans age 55 and over said it is a parent’s responsibility to start the conversation with their kids about their legacy and estate planning.

23. Potentially drawing inspiration from Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, 65% of American adults aged 55 plan to allocate some of their money before their death.

(Source: Merrill/Age Wave)

An impressive near two-thirds of American adults aged 55+ plan on giving while still living. Furthermore, 8% of them plan to give their whole wealth during their lifetime, while another 27% have plans to give it all away after their death.

If you happen to have the opposite problem and believe you will outlive your income, you may want to look into an annuity. Start by reading our explanation of annuities first.

Why Is Estate Planning Important?

What happens if you don’t properly plan how to divvy up your estate, and what do people say is the most important reason for doing so? The answers may surprise you.

24. You could lose up to 10% of an estate in the probate process.

(Source: LegalZoom)

Dying without a will, also known as dying intestate, means you’re leaving it up to the courts to decide who gets what. This legal process, where the courts decided what do with your assets, is called a probate.

In some cases the costs are even higher, especially if accountant and attorneys are involved. Conversely, some states impose limits on how much lawyers and executors can charge for probate.

25. It could take months, or even years, to probate a will.

(Source: LegalZoom)

Probates can be a time-consuming and expensive process for your loved ones. It can take anywhere from a few months to more than a year (or even years) to probate a will. But a comprehensive estate plan lower the odds of a long and costly probate process.

26. Over one-third (35%) of American adults say they were exposed to family conflict due to a lack of an estate plan or a will; personally or through friends.

(Source: WealthCounsel)

In fact more than half (53%) of those in WealthCounsel’s survey, who reported having established a trust, did so to specifically reduce family tensions, legal disputes, and conflict upon their passing.

27. “Easing the burden on their loved ones” was listed as the top reason of estate and end-of-life planning by Americans over the age of 55.

(Source: Merrill/Age Wave)

How important are loved ones to us? Consider that when people were asked to define a ‘life well lived’ by the same study, an overwhelming 94% of them answered “having family and friends that love me”. Over two-thirds want to be remembered for the “memories shared with my loved ones”.

28. 52% of Americans aged 55 and over think it “irresponsible” to die without an end-of-life plan or an estate plan.

(Source: Merrill/Age Wave)

Furthermore, 22% of respondents said it would be “inconsiderate,” and 14% said it would be “ignorant” to die without having proper estate planning in place. In other words, people rightfully believe that one’s heirs don’t just stand to inherit assets, but headaches too if no will is in place.

29. 71% of American adults say an estate plan “would make me feel like a good parent or spouse”.

(Source: WealthCounsel)

Certainly this implies just how aware people are of the benefits a well thought-out estate plan would bring their family.

On the other hand, roughly a quarter of respondents in this particular survey reported not speaking to their families about an estate plan because they don’t like to think or talk about their own death.

Why Do Many People Push Off Estate Planning?

Americans are interested in estate planning, but they cite certain hurdles standing in their way.

30. “Estate planning is a confusing topic” according to 74% of American adults.

(Source: WealthCounsel)

If there was one word to describe how American’s feel about estate planning, the word would be ‘confusion’. Moreover, some of the confusion stems from a false belief (by 47% of respondents) that estate planning is only for the richest among us.

While another 49% say they don’t think they have enough assets to warrant even thinking about wills, and estate plans.

31. “Don’t have a will because I haven’t gotten around to it” according to 36% of American adults in 2021

(Source: Caring)

Drafting a will, now there’s one place you’re not surprised to witness procrastination.

But the good news is that this number has actually shrunk in recent years. In fact, in 2019 about half of respondents answered in such a manner. Decreasing to below 50% in 2020 and to 36% in 2021.

32. “I have no Will, because not enough assets to leave behind” according to 30% of American adults

(Source: Caring)

Not having enough assets to leave behind is persistently the second biggest reason people aren’t drafting wills, for 5 years in a row.

With the average credit card debt statistics revealing that 30% of Americans owe more in credit card debt than they possess in emergency savings, this is not a surprising answer to hear.

In spite of not having vast riches, drafting a will is a wise way to protect your family, save them headaches, and expedite the asset distribution process of what you do possess upon your passing.

33. “No will, because it’s too expensive to write one” according to 7% of American adults

(Source: Caring, Thumbtack)

If like most people you wouldn’t know where to start, were you to try and draft one yourself, expect to pay anywhere from $300 to $1,500+ when hiring a firm or an attorney to help create your will.

34. “I have no will, because I don’t know how to draft one” according to 6% of American adults

(Source: Caring)

Even if you knew how to draft one up, could you? Yes, it is legal to write your own will, and many people first explore the do-it-yourself will drafting option. But many soon discover that drafting one and ensuring it stands up to their state’s legal scrutiny is a job best reserved for a certified attorney,

35. Of those American adults who work with a financial advisor, almost two-thirds (64%) have never properly discussed their estate plans with them.

(Source: Edward Jones)

Who can blame them, discussing one’s own death and what will happen when you’re gone is not exactly a fun topic. Nevertheless, the responsible thing to do is to bite the bullet, and trade temporary discomfort for making sure your loved ones are taken care of in the future.

36. 34% of Gen-X and Millennials have discussed estate planning with their financial advisors vs. 38% of Baby Boomers

(Source: Edward Jones)

Baby Boomers, the generation most likely to need an estate plan in the near future, is just marginally leading the way in discussing legacy goals with their financial advisors.

COVID-19 Estate Planning Statistics

How did the coronavirus pandemic impact interest in estate planning? Let’s find out.

37. The COVID-19 pandemic triggered 32% of adults under the age of 35 to write a will.

(Source: CNBC)

Furthermore, the catalyst for 21% of people ages 18 to 34 to draft a will was specifically due to them or someone in their immediate circle of family and friends getting COVID-19.

38. The COVID-19 pandemic made estate planning and will drafting a more important topic for 33% of American adults.

(Source: CNBC)

As a result of the global pandemic highlighting out mortality, roughly 1-in-3 Americans started seeing legacy planning in a new light, pacing higher importance on it than before.

39. More Americans searched Google for “make a will online” in April 2021 than at any point in the past 17 years.

(Source: Google Trends)

According to Google, American’s interests in drafting wills was at an all time high in April of 2021. Demonstrated by the (max) popularity score of 100 for the search term “make a will online”.

40. “Make a will online” Google searches in April 2021 were the highest in New Mexico, Louisiana, Mississippi, Washington, and Florida.

(Source: Google Trends)

Meanwhile, in states like California, Pennsylvania, New York, Georgia and North Carolina, the Google searches for the same term were the lowest in popularity out of all states.

41. Searches for “make a will online” on Google in April 2021 were more than three times higher than searches for the same keyword in January 2020.

(Source: Google Trends)

To truly illustrate how aware Americans were of their mortality during the coronavirus pandemic, we need not look further than the tripling of the “make a will online” search term in just over a years time.

Because in January of 2020 the pandemic had not yet settled in, but as of April 2021, after the wildest year of their lives, Americans were fully aware that they needed an inheritance plan.

42. More than half (54%) of American adults would encourage a loved one with COVID-19 to draft a will or an estate plan.

(Source: CNBC)

The pandemic really shifted our attitude towards death. Furthermore, 26% of the Americans with a will drafted one because they were afraid of serious illness or death related to COVID-19.

43. Older Americans are more likely to encourage their loved ones with COVID-19 to create wills or estate plans.

(Source: CNBC)

As revealed by survey responses which show that 45% of Americans aged 18 to 24 said they would do so, versus the 58% of those 65 and older who responded in the same manner.

Note on the numbers used in the article: In an effort to paint a fuller picture, the figures in this article were aggregated from numerous credible sources, who reported the results of their surveys at various points in time.

Tips for Estate Planning Successfully

If you’re going to launch into creating an estate plan, make sure you do it the right way.

First, seek to fully answer the following four questions by the time you’re finished:

  • what should happen to my assets when I am gone?
  • how can I ensure my family maintains their financial well-being?
  • how can I ensure there is ultimately no costly and lengthy probate process?
  • how can I minimize or eliminate estate taxes?

Next, avoid silly mistakes and take into account the following estate planning best practices:

  • think very carefully about who you want to be in charge of your estate before deciding
  • instruct what happens if you’re incapacitated before you die (healthcare and finances)
  • arrange for disability income insurance if you end up not being able to work
  • long-term care insurance in case you experience an extended illness or an injury
  • life insurance to safeguard and financially protect your family once you’re gone
  • instruct what happens to your business once you retire, become incapacitated, disabled, or die
  • assign a guardian to look after your children and their inheritance until they’re of legal age
  • provide for special needs family members, without jeopardizing their government benefits
  • provide for family members who aren’t good with money, and who have creditors after them
  • keep legal fees, court costs, and taxes to a minimum

Keep in mind that as time goes on you may need to update your estate plan. Because your financial and family situation may change as you get older, revisiting and updating the documentation is highly recommended.

Especially if there happen to be changes in: relevant estate planning laws, child birth, adoptions, marriages, divorces, deaths, property and business acquisitions or sales, and other major changes.

Parting Words

Estate planning can seem like a daunting task, forcing you to acknowledge your own mortality and eventual passing. Who in their right mind would want to do that? Actually, all of us should.

Change the lens through which you see will drafting, living trusts, and estate planning. Instead of it being a dark experience, remember that everyone’s time on Earth is limited, and one generation should always strive to help pave the way for the next one.

Envision how much better the lives of your loved ones can be with a properly put together estate plan, devoid of lengthy and expensive court hearings, family bickering, rifts, and other nonsense.


Gallup | Brookdale Senior Living | Caring: 2021 Wills and Estate Planning Study | Boston College | | (Merrill) Bank of America: Life Stage Series | HSBC: The Future of Retirement | LegalZoom: Probate Costs | WealthCounsel: Inaugural Estate Planning Survey | Thumbtack: Will Creation Cost | Edward Jones via PR Newswire | CNBC: LegalZoom 2020 Survey

Finance grad turned digital entrepreneur. I've been investing in the stock market and real estate since 2010, but the learning never ends! Fan of buying and holding dividend stocks, monkeying around on the web, and offering data-driven actionable content for those looking to enjoy their golden years.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, or other advertiser and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Comment Policy: We invite readers to respond with questions or comments. Comments may be held for moderation and are subject to approval. Comments are solely the opinions of their authors'. The responses in the comments below are not provided or commissioned by any advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any company. It is not anyone's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Leave a Comment