Why More Than Half of Americans Don't Have Wills

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Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow -- Americans apparently are in no rush to think about their last days.

The newly released 2011 EZLaw Wills & Estate Planning survey shows a fairly significant disconnect between our ideals and our actions when it comes to preparing for our deaths. While 60% of those surveyed said they believe all adults should have estate plans, only 44% said they have one. Why? According to the survey, the chief reason people can't think about tomorrow is because they're too stressed about today, trying to pay bills and buy groceries. Secondly, they said they don't have estate planning documents because it is too complicated to deal with right now.

What would motivate them to get going? Well, 75% said they would be more likely to create or update their will if there was an easy, valid way to do so online.

Of particular note was the fact that women and younger folks (ages 18 to 34) are more likely to be concerned about maintaining their weight than protecting their financial assets. The the under-35 demographic also said that it is less important for people to have wills because people are living longer, healthier lives.

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It's not just college kids and young adults who have no real sense of urgency about estate planning, though. More than a third of those surveyed who have children under 18 said they don't believe that wills or estate planning documents are one of the most important documents to have in place. What mattered to them? Birth certificates, and titles and deeds for property and vehicles topped their lists.

Furthermore, despite the fact that plenty of people know that without a will, a court decides who becomes a child's legal guardian if both parents die, only 39% of those surveyed with minors in their households have estate planning documents, and 13% believe that their spouse and children will automatically receive the assets they have in the event of their deaths.

Financial planners must be squirming in their seats. The stats aren't pretty, and they portend a lot of potential headaches for those who are left behind to sort out all the unsettled issues.

Start With the Basics


"Make this a priority. Start with something basic, such as a will that names guardians for children and specifies who gets your possessions," says Niran Kundapur, director of Product Planning at LexisNexis Law Firm Marketing Solutions. "After that, add on other estate planning documents such as power of attorney, living trust and living will."

If you feel intimidated or overwhelmed, getting educated helps. You can find good info online at sites like Nolo.com, through the many books on the topic, and at financial websites. LexisNexis developed EZLaw, an online service that helps you create a living will, last will and testament, or power of attorney, and have the documents reviewed by an attorney.

What's important, says Kundapur, is to start the conversation. "Don't be afraid to discuss it: Ask friends and family who have done this already, trusted professionals such as CPAs or family lawyers or doctors. Why go it alone?"

The bottom line: "People are busy living their lives and do not want to think about their mortality," says Kundapur. "Yet, estate planning is not about our own self. It's about ensuring the best possible future for family and loved ones."




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