Research suggests that approximately 60 percent of U.S. adults have no estate plan, and that having a plan is often influenced by age and socioeconomic status. A Gallup poll conducted in 2016 indicates that 68 percent of Americans aged 65 and older have a will, compared with 14 percent of those younger than age 30. Of those whose annual household income is $75,000 or greater, 55 percent have a will, compared with 31 percent of those with incomes of less than $30,000. Additionally, 61 percent with postgraduate education have wills, compared with 32 percent of those with a high school education or less.
Planning is important to ensure the proper distribution of property at death, and also to manage finances and health care decision-making during one's lifetime. While there may be a number of reasons people do not engage in estate planning, here are some common factors:
1. An assumption that “it will work out.” Many people believe they know where their property will pass at death. Unfortunately, many of these assumptions can be wrong, with the result much different from expectations.
2. Their need is not urgent. Why plan today when I can do it tomorrow?
3. Fear of upsetting family harmony (or perceived harmony). Sometimes you cannot please everyone, so it may seem easier to do nothing. However, leaving confusion and uncertainty rarely, if ever, draws a family closer to each other. While the final plan may not please everyone, it is preferable to ensuring a fight.
4. Cost. The attorney should be willing to share with the client the attorney's expectation of the cost of planning, even if in the form of a range of fees. Often this is tempered with caution; the cost can increase if the client requires more work than initially discussed, or if unexpected legal issues are encountered. The attorney can also help the client understand that the cost of the plan should be considered in the context of what is at stake by not having a valid or appropriate plan. What is it worth to protect the client's estate?
5. Too much of a hassle. The client must gather detailed information for the attorney. This can take time and effort, but is crucial if the attorney's advice is to be appropriate.
6. Fear of vulnerability. Planning prepares for a time when the client has died, or is otherwise not in control of his or her affairs. This can be painful for some to contemplate. However, the attorney should help clients understand that doing proper planning puts the client in control, even if they are incapacitated. The alternative is to leave decisions up to whoever happens to take an interest. That person may not be the person the client would have chosen.