Wills & Estate Planning

Stats, Facts & Ruminations

Bequests Statistics

Will, or Will Not?

Ouch. 68 percent of Americans lack a valid will.

Of this group, most have never even created an estate plan or made plans for their legacy. Others have old wills that have not been updated to account for family births or deaths; divorces; stepchildren; ex-spouses; business partnerships; the sale of real estate; income changes, etc.

Key Points

Estate planning is creating a clear, comprehensive plan for the transfer of your assets, after your death, to the people or organizations you love.

Assets include real estate, vehicles, personal property; brokerage, bank, insurance and retirement accounts; business interests, and more. Whether you are married with children or single with no dependents, a trust and will ensures that you, not the state, get to choose what happens to your assets.

  • Estate planning also includes instructions for your own care should you become incapacitated. That means the creation of a living will/ advance health care directive.
    • 18% of people don’t even know what an advanced heath care directive is!¹
  • Familial conflicts
    • 35% of adults in the U.S. say themselves or someone they know experienced familial conflict because an estate plan or will was not put in place.²
  • Dying intestate (without a will) often extends the probate process.
    • Probate expenses can cost up to 10% of an estate under the best of circumstances and can take from a few months to several years.³
    • Famous People Who Died Without a Will. You’re in for a surprise.
  • Parents should definitely have an estate plan to determine who would care for their children if the unthinkable happens. Otherwise, the state will decide on a guardian.
    • 34% of people started estate planning due to the birth of a child.°
    • 52% of Americans 55 and over say dying without an estate plan would be “irresponsible,” 22% say it would be “inconsiderate,” and 14% say it would be “ignorant.”°°
  • Include a guardian for your donors’ furry friends.
    • 77% of pet owners designate a guardian for Fido or Fifi.°
  • The Great Wealth Transfer is here.
    • Over the next 30 years we will see American retirees pass more than $36 trillion on to their families, friends, nonprofits, and additional beneficiaries.†
  • When you create an estate plan, you need to communicate with whomever you would like to be the executor, so they’re not handed a surprise at your passing.
    • Only 46% of will executors were even aware of their role in a will!†
  • Estate planning documents must be kept in a secure but easily accessible place, and your family should know where that is.
    • Over 52% of people don’t know where mom and dad stored their estate planning documents.¹

United Kingdom

Here’s clear proof from the UK that planned giving works. Now, if only U.S. nonprofits (and donors) would jump on the bandwagon!

  • A 2023 report from Legacy Foresight found that planned giving is one of the largest sources of income for UK charities, raising £4 billion (around $5 billion US) annually.

The 2023 Legacy Giving Consumer Benchmark Study of 2,000 annual donors 40 and older dug deeper:

  • 64 percent of annual donors reported having created a will. That number has been incrementally increasing since 2021.
  • 31 percent of those with a will included a charitable planned gift.
  • 29 percent of donors added a planned gift when making amendments to an existing will.
  • More than 21 percent of annual donors age 40 and older included a planned gift in a will.
  • 37 percent of annual donors in their 40s and 50s included a planned gift in their will.
  • 27 percent of those aged over 60 included a planned gift in their will.
  • 64 percent of those who included a legacy gift in their will did not let charities know about the gift; out of those, 47 percent said it never even occurred to them to let the charity know about the gift.
  • 63 percent of annual donors said the biggest barrier to a planned gift is a desire to leave everything to family or friends.
Heirs fighting over family inheritance under grandmother's portrait

35% of adults in the U.S. say they or someone they know experienced familial conflict because an estate plan or will was not put in place.²

Estate Planning by Age and Race

From Caring.com and AARP:

  • 24% of 18- to 34-year-olds have a will.
  • 27% of 25- to 54-year-olds have a will.
  • 45% of people over the age of 55 have a will.
  • 81% of people over the age of 72 have a will.
  • Research shows that wealth, wage and financial literacy gaps mean fewer BIPOC individuals take the time and money for estate planning. A 2022 study show that BIPOC individuals are also 14% less likely to have an estate plan than non-BIPOC individuals.


  • 29% of Black Americans have a will or estate planning document—a 12% increase from 2020.
  • 27% of Hispanic adults have a will.
  • 35% of white adults have a will.

Estate Planning by Socioeconomic Status

From Caring.Com:

  • 63% of people who make more than $80,000 per year cite procrastination as the primary reason for putting off estate planning.
  • 42% of people who earn between $40,000 and $80,000 annually say they don’t have time to write a will, and 32% think they don’t have enough assets to leave behind.
  • 20% of people who earn less than $40,000 per year say that they don’t have enough assets to leave, while 11% believe estate planning is too expensive.


Fun Stuff

  • Shortest will: “All to son.”
  • Second shortest will: “All to wife.” (January of 1967, Herr Karl Hausch)
  • Largest inheritance to a pet: $80 million (1991, Carlotta Leibenstein)
  • Oldest Power of Attorney: 561 BC, Mesopotamia
  • Longest will: 1066 pages (Frederica Evelyn Stilwell Cook, British)
  • Famous people who died without a will: Abraham Lincoln, Picasso, Martin Luther King and 27 others.

¹Cambridge Trust ²WealthCounsel ³LegalZoom °Trust & Will °°Age Wave/Merrill †SeniorLiving.org
Bequest Intentions and Race — PDF Download (Jennifer Lehman, JD, PhD & Russell James, JD, PhD, CFP)