Retirement

Why do some people have a will but others don’t? – Center for Retirement Research

Without a will, distribution of assets can be difficult.

This blog post reports on the results of a survey that asked participants if they had a will and why. Next week’s post will present the results of an experiment, for people without a will, to determine whether combining will-writing with a mortgage process – not really a good idea – will lead to more wills. Will encourage writing.

The difference between having some wealth and relying solely on current income is huge. The most effective way to ensure that wealth transfers reach the intended recipients is for the donor to have a will. Without a will, assets can be dispersed among multiple heirs, which can be a particular problem for those whose major asset is their home.

Despite the benefits of making a will, only two-thirds of households in 2020 had heads aged 70 or older, and the share of white households with a will was more than twice that of black and Hispanic households (Figure 1 (see).

The question of interest to us was whether targeted wills could be enhanced by an intervention that promotes will writing. To answer this question, we conducted a survey—using the AmeriSpeak panel—run by NORC at the University of Chicago—in which participants were asked a series of questions about whether or not they would. And why? People without wills then participated in an experiment to determine whether various incentives would encourage them to write wills.

The survey found that 34 percent of all respondents aged 25 and over had made a will. These individuals were older, with more education, more likely to own a home, more likely to be white, and had slightly higher incomes.

The most important life motivation for writing a will was having a child (see Table 1). The next two causes were more external: 1) the death of someone close to the individual, highlighting their own mortality; and 2) a parent/family/friend recommended that the individual establish a will.

The table shows the reasons why the respondents established the first will.

The survey also asked about intended recipients. The results show that children account for two-thirds of the total and grandchildren 7 percent. Other family members account for 18 percent and non-family—both unrelated individuals and religious or charitable organizations—8 percent (see Figure 2).

Pie chart showing intended beneficiaries for respondents with wills.

The remaining 66 percent did not have a will. The top reason (44 percent) for not writing a will was: “I haven’t gotten over it yet.” This response is consistent with earlier studies showing that procrastination is a major problem when it comes to writing a will. The second big reason is that some people might think they’ve taken care of wills, answering “I’ve designated beneficiaries for most of my financial assets (401(k), life insurance, etc.).” What is it.” Many other responses suggested that people were generally upset by the process.

Next week’s blog post will report on whether the prospect of adding will writing to the mortgage process will make things better or worse and what we’ve learned from it.


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