How has COVID-19 impacted American’s views on estate planning?

Over the past year, Americans have experienced many fundamental changes in the way we perceive and engage with nearly all aspects of our lives. The pandemic pushed many of us to prioritize our (and our loved ones’) health and wellbeing. As a result, there was a notable rise in conversations about estate planning. But did this rise in interest translate into an increase in Americans with estate plans? A recent study from Caring.com says both “yes” and “no.”

The Good News

Young Americans are planning for the future.

Historically, younger people are more likely to view estate planning as a non-urgent task that can be put off. The pandemic inspired a sense of urgency amongst Americans aged 18-34 to take action to create a plan. According to Caring.com’s 2021 survey results, 1 out of 2 younger adults were motivated by COVID-19 to create an estate plan.

The reality is that we never know when an estate plan make be necessary and all legal adults (anyone over the age of 18) should have certain estate related documents in place, even if they don’t create a will or trust. The need for estate planning is compounded if young adults are parents, as everyone should have a plan in place to protect their minor children.

Ways to access (and learn about) Estate Planning are expanding.

Another result of the pandemic has been an increase in ways that people can engage in estate planning. Estate planning attorneys have expanded their technology and resources so that people have easy ways to learn about and create estate planning documents.

With virtual meeting technology, webinars, and online document sharing, the tools available to help Americans learn about and design estate plans have become more robust over the past year. And this trend is likely to continue to grow after COVID-19 restrictions have lessened to continue to reach people in spaces they feel most comfortable.

The Bad News

Despite concerns surrounding the pandemic, most Americans did not take action.

Despite many reporting that COVID caused them to see a greater need for an estate plan, 2 out of 3 adults still don’t have an estate plan. While the conversation around estate planning may have increased in the past year, planning itself hasn’t increased.

Planning has decreased among age groups that need an estate plan most.

In contrast to the recent increase in planning amongst younger Americans, planning among those over the age of 35 has decreased. While the majority of Americans believe that you should have a will by the time you’re 35, planning amongst 35-54 year-olds has decreased from 37% in 2019 to 22.5% in 2021. The number of adults age 55 and older with a will has also decreased from 60% to 44% since 2019.

Image from Caring.com

Many don’t know how to get an estate plan in order.

While procrastination remains the top reason that most Americans don’t have an estate plan, respondents without an estate plan in place also report that a lack of understanding is a primary reason they don’t have a plan. 

While the internet is overflowing with information on estate planning, the sheer volume of information (and misinformation) can be overwhelming and confusing. Coupled with conflicting advice people have heard from friends and family about “the right” estate planning tools, approaching estate planning can be a paralyzing experience for many.

At Guttman Law, our goal is to educate Minnesotans on estate planning, demystify the planning process, and explain the tools and options that make sense for each person’s unique goals and concerns. Attorneys Matt Guttman and Jamie Reff-Wagner offer free consultations to help people explore their options in a no-pressure setting. 

Many Americans talk to their loved ones about estate planning but don’t get any farther in their planning journey.

Image from Caring.com

Of those surveyed, 34% of respondents without an estate plan said they have considered planning and have taken some steps to learn more, including speaking to loved ones, but haven’t moved beyond that stage in their planning.

If your loved one reaches out to you about estate planning, encourage them to speak with an estate planning attorney. Estate planning is a nuanced process and it can be difficult to determine the best course of action. Many estate planning attorneys offer free resources, consultations, and webinars to help people begin gathering information applicable to their situation.