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2024 Estate Planning Trends: American Attitudes toward Wills, Post-Pandemic

Caring.com just released its annual study on estate planning, and the results show there is a stark contrast between trends during the pandemic vs. after.

Patrick Hicks

Patrick Hicks, @PatrickHicks

Head of Legal, Trust & Will

The COVID-19 Pandemic impacted our lives in significant ways, including how we think about the future. However, if you take a moment to reflect, do you find that any of your beliefs have shifted back towards what they were pre-pandemic?

Caring.com, a company dedicated to providing resources for elder care and assisted living, conducted a 2024 survey to gauge the status of estate planning in America. Trust & Will dives into the results and shares an analysis of some of the most intriguing trends found in the study.

Latest Estate Planning Trends and Attitudes

Trust & Will's very own General Counsel, Patrick Hicks, was asked to weigh in on the Caring.com study. "Wills and estate planning are essential to everyone, not just the wealthy," he said.

Everyone in the U.S. has noticed (and felt) the rise of inflation, but individuals and families in low-income households are affected the most. This has contributed to the geographic income inequality that is a grave issue in our economic tapestry.

While we saw improvements in estate planning rates across the board during the pandemic, certain demographic percentages are falling again. While inflation is certainly a burden, it appears as though many Americans still believe that you need to have a certain amount of wealth in order for estate plans to be a worthwhile effort.

Let's take a look at some of Caring's survey results.

The COVID Effect: An Estate Planning Surge that is Waning

Caring.com shares that its key finding through the 2024 survey is that estate planning levels have dropped to pre-pandemic levels for the first time. Currently, less than 3 out of 4 Americans have a Will in place. That's 32 percent -- a six percent falloff from 2023.

The surge in estate planning that took place over the last few years was directly correlated with the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Estate planning rates improved year-over-year, that is, until this year.

Let's come back to this statistic after sharing some of the other results to take a look at the bigger picture as to why this may be happening.

Many Americans still believe you need to be Rich for an estate plan

One of the starkest changes we are witnessing year-over-year is the share of Americans who hold the belief that you need to be wealthy in order for an estate plan to be beneficial.

In 2023, 35 percent of survey respondents held this belief, but in 2024, the percentage jumped up to 40 percent. That's 4 out of 10 Americans who feel this way, something that has increased 21 percent in over the past two years.

This could explain why so many people are still not properly protecting their assets through estate planning.

A Crisis-Responder Attitude

Attitudes about when Americans plan to get an estate plan helps to shed light on why we saw a surge in estate planning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over 40 percent of Americans who don't currently have a Will don't plan to get one until they experience a health crisis. When faced with uncertainty or adversity, they are more likely to take action and organize their affairs. As the immediate threat of the pandemic waned, so did the urgency to engage in estate planning.

More Black Americans have a Will

The survey highlights a positive trend among Black Americans, who have shown a marked increase in the adoption of estate planning. This demographic appears to be more proactive about securing their financial legacies than in previous years. In the year 2020, the estate planning rate was 26 percent. After increasing steadily year after year, the percentage has increased to 31 percent. Other racial and ethnic groups showed a decrease year-over-year.

Young Americans are Showing Up

Interestingly, younger Americans (ages 18-34) are engaging more with estate planning than ever before. Since the pandemic, the number of young adults with an estate plan has increased by an impressive 50 percent. This year, nearly one-quarter of Americans in this age group have a Will in place. Motivated by digital accessibility and a growing awareness of financial wellness, this group is debunking the myth that estate planning is only for the older population.

Low-Income Americans are Discouraged

Despite the general increase in awareness, low-income Americans remain less likely to have a Will or estate plan.

Americans who make $80,000 or more a year are the most likely to have an estate plan at 46 percent. The next income bracket belongs to those who make $40,000 or more, and 35 percent have their affairs in order.

Individuals who make $40,000 or less not only have the lowest estate planning rates, they have experienced the most significant drop. As of 2024, estate planning has decreased from 25 percent in 2020 down to 21 percent this year, a 16 percent drop.

The perceived high costs of preparing legal documents and the lack of tangible assets are major deterrents for this group.

There is an Education Gap

The survey indicates a significant lack of knowledge about estate planning, particularly among those without a college degree. It also shows a strong, direct correlation between level of education and estate planning rates.

Over half of Americans with a postgraduate degree have their affairs in order. Those who attended high school or less are at 23 percent. The survey also finds that the education gap correlating with the estate planning gap is growing.

Since 2021, all education groups have experienced an increase in estate planning rates, except the group with the least amount of education, for which estate planning has gone down.

This gap underscores the need for more targeted educational efforts that demystify the estate planning process and make it accessible to everyone.

Inflation is Causing Worry

Inflation has emerged as a top concern for all Americans, influencing their financial decisions and capacity to invest in estate planning.

Nearly half of Americans feel that inflation has had an impact on their estate planning activities. For younger Americans, the impact is even greater at 57 percent. (Older adults are the least impacted in their views.)

Interestingly, inflation is causing Americans to feel a different way regarding getting their Wills in place. For some, it makes them feel as though estate planning is more urgent, while others feel that they see less of a need.

The rising cost of living is not only a source of anxiety but also a practical barrier to allocating funds towards future planning. Many seem to feel that the priority is to focus on the things that are right before them and putting future planning on the back burner.

Most Americans Agree: Having a Will by 35 is Important

Despite varying levels of engagement with estate planning, there is a consensus (1 in 3) among Americans that having a Will by the age of 35 is a wise decision. This data point saw a 12 percent increase in the past two years. This benchmark reflects a common understanding of the importance of early planning.

Top Reasons Americans Do Get an Estate Plan

For those who do have a Will in place, what motivated them in the first place? According to the survey results, estate planning motivation varies greatly by age group, gender, and level of income.

For example, younger Americans are more motivated to get an estate plan by life events such as family expansion, a home purchase, or being influenced by the media. Older Americans, in contrast, are motivated most by hitting retirement or other age-related milestones.

Experiencing a death of a loved one or medical concern, however, are high motivators across the board regardless of income, gender, or age group.

Collective Procrastination is a Culprit

A notable trend from the survey is what you might call 'collective procrastination.' Many respondents acknowledge the importance of having an estate plan. If this is the case, then why don't they have at least a Will in place today?

As you already know, for low-income groups, the most common reason is a belief that you need to have assets in order for estate planning to be worthwhile.

For any other income group, however, the most common reason cited was simply "I haven't gotten around to it yet." Perhaps there are some psychological barriers, such as not knowing how to get started or believing that setting up an estate plan is too expensive and time-consuming.

2024 Estate Planning Trends: A Bird's-Eye View

To summarize, here are the key insights from the Caring.com 2024 survey on estate planning:

  1. There was a shared sense of urgency as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic that motivated many to get their affairs in order. Fear is a powerful motivator, and this was no exception.

  2. Wealth and education gaps are prevalent in estate planning rates.

  3. Many Americans are misled to believe that estate planning is expensive or something that is only beneficial for the wealthy.

  4. Inflation and not feeling well-resourced is discouraging many Americans from estate planning and other future-oriented activities.

  5. There is a collective procrastination in effect when it comes to estate planning.

Solutions to Alleviate the Challenges in Estate Planning

While addressing the challenges in estate planning will take time, there are solutions to help mitigate some barriers that Americans are currently facing. Some of these barriers are real, while others are based on psychology and perception. In other words, there are some realities that need to be changed, while there are also myths that need to be dispelled and attitudes changed.

Here are some possible ideas:

1. Enhancing Awareness and Education: Continuous education and awareness campaigns are essential. These initiatives should highlight the importance of being prepared for unforeseen circumstances, highlighting that estate planning is not a reaction to fear but a proactive step towards safeguarding one's legacy and providing for loved ones. They should also help debunk common myths.

2. Bridging Wealth and Education Gaps: To help narrow the divide, targeted programs must be introduced, focusing on providing accessible and affordable estate planning resources to underrepresented communities. Leveraging technology can democratize access to information, while partnerships with non-profit organizations can facilitate workshops and counseling sessions, tailored to these demographics.

3. Demystifying Estate Planning Costs: The misconception that estate planning is prohibitively expensive and exclusively for the affluent can be addressed through public education initiatives. Offering free or low-cost consultations with estate planning professionals and promoting do-it-yourself online tools can provide viable, cost-effective alternatives for a broader audience.

4. Tackling Economic Hurdles: The impact of inflation and economic instability can dampen enthusiasm towards long-term planning. Financial literacy programs aimed at improving personal finance management can empower individuals to take control of their financial future, including estate planning. Further, policy interventions to stabilize economic conditions would indirectly support individuals in feeling more secure about their long-term financial decisions.

5. Overcoming Procrastination: To address collective procrastination, a cultural shift in how estate planning is perceived must take place. Simplifying the process through technological solutions, such as online platforms that guide individuals step-by-step, can make estate planning seem less daunting. Further, integrating estate planning into the broader conversation about financial wellness and tying it to life milestones—such as buying a home, getting married, or having a child—can encourage timely action.

While estate planning has become more accessible to all Americans, it is evident that the perceptions surrounding Wills and estate plans still need to evolve. The COVID-19 pandemic created a surge of individuals wanting to get their affairs in order in light of uncertainty, but since the pandemic has waned, so has estate planning activity.

Trust & Will - The Perfect Solution for Every American

The 2024 Caring.com study sheds light on the evolving landscape of estate planning in America. As social norms and economic conditions continue to shift, it becomes increasingly important for all Americans to reconsider their estate planning needs. Understanding and addressing the barriers that prevent people from engaging in estate planning can ensure that more individuals and families are protected and prepared for the future.

Trust & Will is an online platform that provides simple, affordable and accessible estate planning solutions for every American. With a focus on customer education, streamlined processes, and expert guidance, Trust & Will breaks down the barriers of traditional estate planning and makes it easy for everyone to create their Wills, Trusts, and other documents that make up a comprehensive plan. Trust & Will ensures that every individual has access to the necessary tools to protect their loved ones and their legacies.

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