Death or medical emergencies are never topics that are easy to address. However, a last will or testament can make a difference in the way that one experiences aging, as well as how families grieve in the aftermath of a deceased loved one. Gallup findings from 2021 show that less than half of U.S. adults had a will at the time. Where do Americans stand today on last wills, as well as living wills and advance healthcare directives?

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Around 4-in-10 Have Last Wills, More Are Planning On It

New CivicScience data show that the percentage of U.S. adults with wills is still less than half – 38% of Americans currently have a last will and testament detailing property and asset rights after death. However, half of respondents plan to create one in their lifetimes, and 22% plan to make one in the next 12 months. If that were to happen, over 50% of Americans would then have a will by this time next year.

As it turns out, last wills are most common among:

  • Adults aged 65+: 61% have a will, compared to 46% of those aged 55-64; 35% of those aged 35-54; and 22% of those aged 18-34.
  • Homeowners: 49% have a will, compared to 23% of renters.
  • High-income earners: the higher the annual household income, the more likely someone is to have a will.

Age 65 and up appears to be when most Americans are likely to create a will for their financial assets. Less than half of adults under age 65 currently have a will, but between 20-25% plan on creating one in the next 12 months. To no one’s surprise, adults aged 18-34 are the most likely to not plan on making a will (16%), although 62% foresee creating one at some point in the future.

Additionally, attorneys are the most popular option when it comes to the process of preparing a will. More than half of U.S. adults said they used an attorney to prepare their will, while 17% used an online site such as LegalZoom or Free Will, and 34% either wrote their own will or used other means (n=2,202). However, adults aged 34 and younger showed a high rate of using online sites (28%) compared to an attorney (36%). Legal document preparation websites and digital services are likely to become increasingly popular over the traditional use of an attorney as the U.S. population grows older.

Living Wills Are Alive and Well

A living will allows individuals to state their healthcare preferences in the case that they are unable to communicate them at a future date. More than a third of Americans report having this type of advance medical directive (34%), slightly lower than the percentage of those with last wills. Over a quarter (26%) say they plan on creating a living will in the near future.

The data suggest that knowledge of this type of advance medical directive is surprisingly high, as just 7% of adults say they are unfamiliar with a living will and 47% are planning to create one at some point in life. Adults aged 65+ are once again the most likely to already possess a living will, but adults across the board demonstrate a high interest in creating one, including 52% of adults aged 18-34.

Interestingly, 24% of Americans have either a designated financial or healthcare power of attorney, and an additional 20% say they have both (n=3,927).

Americans Are Planning for Their Futures

Of course, legal documents aren’t the only aids Americans may turn to in order to ease the burden of their passing. For some, life insurance answers the question of how to ensure your family is prepared in the event of your death.

As of 2023, 57% of U.S. adults say they have a life insurance policy, the same percentage as in 2022. And as the data show, those who have life insurance are highly likely to have a last will or to be planning to create one if they haven’t already. That said, a significant portion of people without a life insurance policy and not intending to secure one currently have a last will (49%), but they are also the least interested in creating one in the future.

Finally, data show those who have a will or plan to create one are more optimistic about the future than those who never plan to create one. So while some may view end-of-life preparation as a sign of pessimism, perhaps sentiments are changing, as many Americans plan to take steps for the future.