Older People Are Abandoning Wills: Should You Join Them?

Grandfather and grandson
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A will helps to spell out your final wishes, including who inherits at least some of your estate. But it appears the popularity of these legal documents has been declining for years.

Gal Wettstein, a senior research economist at the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, recently pored over data from the University of Michigan’s Health and Retirement Study, a survey of people over the age of 50.

The survey has been conducted every two years since 1992 and now includes 26,500 households.

In looking at the numbers, Wettstein found a steady decline in the percentage of households headed by someone at least age 70 who has a will — from 72% in 1996 to 63% in 2018. That is a decline of 12.5%.

The drop was even more significant in households headed by someone at least age 50 — from 60% in 1996 to 44% in 2018, or a decline of about 26.7%.

What accounts for the decline in popularity of wills? No one knows, with Wettstein telling ThinkAdvisor that experts can only speculate as to what might be driving the trend.

One detail does stand out, though, Wettstein says: A large racial gap in who has a will and who does not.

Alicia Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research, noted that the analysis found that 59% of white but only 21% of Black heads of households over 50 had a will.

In addition, 77% of white householders and 49% of Black householders would likely leave a bequest, essentially meaning they are likely to give personal property or financial assets to someone upon their death.

According to Wettstein:

“What stuck out to me was the huge [race] gap in the probability of having a will and intention of leaving a bequest, because that’s a really long-lasting impact. It literally spans generations.”

Do you need a will?

As folks abandon wills, it raises a question: Do you still need a will?

Perhaps. As we noted in “8 Documents That Are Essential to Planning Your Estate“:

“A will gives you the power to decide what is in the best interests of your children and pets after you’re gone. It also can help you determine what will happen to possessions with financial or sentimental value.”

Still, Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson says not everyone needs this estate-planning document. For more on his take, check out “Do I Really Need a Will?

If you decide a will is the right way to go, know that you can make one online using a service like Money Talks News partner Rocket Lawyer.

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