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Facing mortality, more Americans wrote wills during the pandemic. Now, they're opting out

Fewer of us are writing wills, a new survey says, a finding that suggests Americans are worrying less about mortality as the pandemic fades.


Only 32% of adults reported having a will in 2024, down from 34% in 2023, according to the 2024 Wills and Estate Planning Study from, an online senior care platform. The figure had crept steadily upward since 2020.
Estate planners saw a spike in wills and trusts at the pandemic’s peak, a time when many Americans were stuck in their homes and preoccupied with their health.


“We saw an uptick during COVID, especially during the beginning part, because people saw their own mortality,” said Ruben Gotlieb, a partner and estate planning expert at the law firm Greenspoon Marder.


Now the pandemic has eased, and Americans’ attention has moved on.

Why a downturn in estate planning is bad for survivors

A downturn in wills could be bad news for survivors.
Experts say just about everyone should have an estate plan, especially if they have children or own a home. People who die without a will can leave a thicket of probate problems for loved ones.


​​“If you are 19, if you are 99 – everybody needs a will,” said Erin Smith, director of estate planning at Edelman Financial Engines, a financial planning and investment advisory company.


Older Americans are more likely to have wills. Yet, even many of them don’t have one.


According to, 43% of adults over 55 have wills in 2024, down from 46% in 2023 and 48% in 2020. The study draws from a December survey of more than 2,400 adults by YouGov.


The survey joins a growing body of research that indicates fewer Americans are writing wills.

Everyone should have a will, experts say

Many financial advisers recommend that Americans should have a will as part of a larger estate plan that dictates not just what happens to our assets after our death, but also who will manage our affairs in an emergency while we are alive, among other provisions.


Someone who dies without a will might leave big questions unanswered: Who cares for a child? Who gets the family home? Some assets are tricky to divide among multiple heirs.


“People with children should probably have a will. People with minor children should probably have a will, just to determine who will take care of them,” said Gal Wettstein, a senior research economist at the Center for Retirement Research.


But estate planning takes time, and it usually costs money. It’s complicated, but needlessly so, some experts say.
“This is more complex than most people understand, and more difficult than it needs to be,” said Steve Lockshin, co-founder of Vanilla, an estate planning software company.

Do I need an attorney to write a will or estate plan?

The good news, Lockshin and others said, is that you don’t necessarily need an attorney to write a will.


An online estate planning service will generate a will for an average fee of $160, according to the National Council on Aging, a charity that advocates for older Americans. The nonprofit offers an online guide.


“Any will is better than no will,” said Jessica Johnston, senior director of the Center for Benefits Access at the National Council. “If your barrier to entry is cost associated with hiring an estate attorney, then using one of these tools is a better option than having no will at all.”


Other probate experts say it could be a mistake to entrust your will to an online service.


“Don’t let the price dictate. Get it done right,” and use an attorney, Gotlieb said. A do-it-yourself will is a bad idea, he said, precisely because it is a complicated instrument.
Edelman’s Smith said she has reviewed online wills prepared by clients who inadvertently disinherited their spouse, instructing that all their assets go to their children. An online will might be appropriate for some families, she said, but it’s not for everyone.


“People don’t know how complex their situation is until they’re talking to an adviser,” she said.

Family Trust:What is it? We explain

If someone dies without a will, the state takes over

In a will or trust, a person instructs how to distribute property and other assets upon their death. When someone dies without a will, the local courts take over.


Anyone with a comparatively simple estate – let’s say, a spouse, a couple of children and a modest list of assets – might assume they don’t need a will.
But probate laws vary, and it can be hard to predict who gets what.


“It’s crazy, and it varies from state to state,” Lockshin said.


If a New York resident dies intestate, leaving a spouse and their biological children, the spouse inherits the first $50,000 of the estate plus half of the balance, and the rest goes to the children, according to an analysis by the online estate planning site

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