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COVID-19 sees 30 million Americans discuss wills for the first time... and you should too

COVID-19 sees 30 million Americans discuss wills for the first time... and you should too
(Image credit: Getty)

Nearly 30 million Americans have had end-of-life discussions about wills, medical care, and funeral wishes with their loved ones for the first time because of the threat posed by COVID-19. According to a recent study by Edward Jones and Age Wave, the global health pandemic has led to a rise in the number of people thinking about their mortality. Importantly, most of those who have recently been reflecting were found to be under the age of 50, and perhaps had previously given little thought to making a will, or taking out the best final expense insurance.

“We've certainly seen COVID-19's disruptive force on finances, with the pandemic influencing retirement timing and financial confidence,” said Ken Cella, Edward Jones Client Services Group Principal. “However, this cloud has brought several silver linings in terms of family closeness and important discussions about planning earlier for retirement, saving more for emergencies and even talking through end-of-life plans and long-term care costs.”

Millions more remain without 

The survey - which canvassed the opinions of 9,000 adults in the U.S. and Canada - also showed that those in Portland, Oregon (64%), St. Louis (63%), Kansas City (62%), and Atlanta (61%) were most likely to have discussed end-of-life matters with their family or friends, versus a national average of 55%. What this also means, of course, is that there are still millions of Americans who haven’t discussed their intentions with loved ones. 

COVID-19 sees 30 million Americans discuss wills for the first time - here's why you should too

(Image credit: Getty)

In a further indication of the numbers who are currently leaving their family and friends in the dark, separate research published by in March - and so conducted before the height of the pandemic - showed that the number of adult Americans with a will or another type of estate planning document had previously been falling year-over-year.  So while in 2017, almost half (42%) of all Americans said that they had a will or estate planning alternative, the proportion had dropped to less than one-third (32%) by early 2020 - a decrease of nearly 25% in just three years. 

Reasons people don’t have a will

When asked why they have put off estate planning, an increasing number of people cited a lack of education (6.3%) or the cost of estate planning (6.8%) as their main reason. In the past, when estate planning necessarily meant an appointment with a lawyer to draw on their expertise and to create a will, such arguments might have held up to some scrutiny. Now, however, with online will software offering comprehensive support and guidance, and far cheaper compared to a lawyer too, such excuses are a lot harder to contemplate. 

While used as an excuse less than it has in year's before, the main reason given for not having a will was that people simply “haven’t gotten around to it” - accounting for 35.7% of responses, albeit down from 50% in 2019. That people didn’t feel they had enough assets to warrant making a will was not far behind in the reasoning, accounting for 30.4% of those questioned. 

Why you need a will

Even if you think that only “wealthy” people or those with more complicated financial affairs and family situations need an estate planning strategy, it really isn’t the case. Regardless of your finances and circumstances, there are advantages to everyone creating a will and making plans for the distribution of their estate. That’s mainly because without a final will and testament, decisions about everything you hold dear, including the care of your children, your assets and your health care, could fall to the courts and the laws of the state where you live, unless you formally lay down your wishes for the future.  

COVID-19 sees 30 million Americans discuss wills for the first time - here's why you should too

(Image credit: Pixabay)

For many, a simple will suffice, while for others a range of documents might be required to ensure your intentions are carried out exactly as you would want - whichever applies to you, it is now possible to produce such documents in a matter of minutes using the best online will maker from the comfort of your home. However, what shouldn’t be an option is to leave behind the type of problems and potential confusion that dying without a will can create. 

“The topic of estate planning can be a difficult one, but not as difficult as the situation your loved ones may be left in if you don’t have an estate plan in place,” says Patrick Hicks, Head of Legal at Trust & Will. “At the end of the day, it’s about peace of mind, not only for you, but more importantly, it’s about protecting your loved ones who will have one less thing to worry about during a difficult time.”

With over 20 years’ experience in the financial services industry, Tim has spent most of his career working for a financial data firm, where he was Online Editor of the consumer-facing Moneyfacts site, and regularly penned articles for the financial advice publication Investment Life and Pensions Moneyfacts. As a result, he has an excellent knowledge of almost areas of personal finance and, in particular, the retirement, investment, protection, mortgage and savings sectors.