[Study] The Impact of COVID-19 on Estate Planning in the U.S.

August 7, 2021 Posted In Estate Planning

The Coronavirus pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives, from our personal hygiene practices to our feelings on safety and security.  Even with the vaccine available, the variant has sustained infection rates across the county and the cumulative death toll has continued to rise.

When faced with these realities and the constant stream of news updates, has the pandemic affected peoples’ attitudes towards estate planning?  We surveyed Americans from all walks of life to find out.

According to our research, people believe that estate planning is more important than ever before.

In fact, 82 percent of adults reported that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted their views towards estate planning – 45 percent reported a significant impact – and 95 percent believe that it is very important.

Survey results for COVID-19 Effect on Estate Planning

Whose Views Have Been Impacted the Most?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, business owners and parents have been affected most by the pandemic.  In fact, 92 percent of self-employed respondents and 89 percent of respondents with children reported that the Coronavirus pandemic changed how they felt about the importance of estate planning.

This is in contrast to 77 percent of those employed for wages and 75 percent of those without children.

How Has COVID-19 Affected Actual Estate Planning Activities?

While it’s clear that the pandemic has made more people consider the importance of having a will or trust in place, has it actually translated into action?  It seems the answer is yes.

15 percent of survey respondents reported that they set up a will or living trust during the pandemic and another four percent made changes to an existing estate plan.  In total, 59 percent of respondents either set up a new will or trust, plan to do so, or made changes to an existing estate plan as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

However, the pandemic and ensuing response have also prevented some people from estate planning activities.  13 percent of respondents reported that they had previously planned to set up a will or trust but have not done so because of the virus.

Overall – The State of Estate Planning 

Beyond the effect that the Coronavirus pandemic has had on people, we were curious to find more information on estate planning in general.  It turns out that, while nearly 95 percent of respondents believe that estate planning is important, only 53 percent currently have a will or trust in place.

How many people have a will or trust?

Who is most likely to have an estate plan in place?

While 53 percent of all respondents reported having a will or trust, certain groups of people were more or less likely to have an estate plan than others.  Men were much more likely to have an estate plan than women, with 63 percent of male respondents reporting to have a will or trust compared to only 45 percent of women.

Homeownership Status

Homeowners were the group most likely to have an estate plan, at 63 percent of respondents.  Conversely, renters were the least likely with only 31 percent of respondents reporting to have a will or trust.  While the disparity between these two groups is massive, it makes sense considering “not having enough money or assets” was the second most common reason people had for not having an estate plan.

Employment Type

Self-employed respondents are much more likely to have an estate plan than those who are employed for wages.  In fact, 61 percent of self-employed respondents (including business owners) reported having a will or trust, compared to only 48 percent of employees.  This was the second-largest disparity among the related groups we compared.

Interestingly, only 56 percent of retired respondents reported having an estate plan.  While this is slightly higher than the rate for the general population, it was much lower than one might have expected.  Retirees also had the highest number of respondents list “I don’t have enough money or assets to need one” as a reason for not having an estate plan.

Marital Status

According to our survey, 59 percent of married people have a will or trust in place, compared to only half of unmarried people.

Parental Status

Surprisingly, this was the closest of the related groups that we examined.  We found that 55 percent of parents and 51 percent of those without children have estate plans in place.  We expected the difference to be much higher.  However, given that parents were among the groups whose views were most affected by the pandemic, perhaps this number will grow in the near future.

Reasons for Not Having an Estate Plan

Given that 47 percent of respondents do not currently have a will or trust in place, we wanted to know why.  When asked why they don’t have an estate plan, the most common responses were:

  • I know it’s important but just haven’t gotten around to it – 59 percent
  • I am unsure of how to go about it – 37 percent
  • I don’t have enough money or assets to need one – 37 percent
  • I’m too young – 19 percent
  • I don’t like thinking about these things – 17 percent
  • I had planned to set one up before COVID but the pandemic has prevented me from doing so – 11 percent

*Respondents were encouraged to choose all that apply.

Conclusion and Methodology:

The data presented comes from a survey of 500 randomly selected Americans and shows that the coronavirus pandemic has made estate planning more prevalent now than ever before.

Still, people are likely to put off estate planning because it has no deadline – we believe that time is on our side. We may also be unsure of how to start the process, convince ourselves we do not need an estate plan, or feel overwhelmed by the whole idea of facing death before its time.

However, an estate plan is a form of protection – for yourself, but also, for those you love. It is a way of taking control of your belongings while you are alive and ensuring their safe distribution and ownership after you are gone. Despite common myths, it is never too early to set up an estate plan. It can only help you prepare for the future – especially now.

If you have any questions or require any guidance or support, reach out to Phillips & Blow PC and know you are not alone.

If you would like to report on the findings of this survey or republish any of the images or data within, please provide our firm credit by linking to this page.

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