Spokane Journal of Business

Large share of Americans don't have wills, study says

Less than half of people age 54 and younger have them, survey results show

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Only one in three Americans has a will, says a new survey by FindLaw.com, a legal information website.

That means the vast majority of Americans potentially could be leaving legal problems for surviving family members if they should die, a representative for the website contends.

A will is a basic component of estate planning. Among other things, it specifies how a person's assets will be distributed after they die, and who will receive them. Without a will, the laws of the state and the decisions of a probate court could determine how a person's estate is distributed, who will care for their children if they are minors, and so on, the representative says.

"By not having a will, you are essentially giving up any control or say into how your estate and your affairs will be handled after you're gone," says Stephanie Rahlfs, an attorney and editor for FindLaw.com. "Writing a will is sometimes a difficult and uncomfortable thing for people to do. But with an attorney's help, it can be a fairly simple and fast process. And it gives people control over their assets and the future of their family, and the peace of mind that can come along with that."

Wills, though, also can be prepared and filed without a lawyer's assistance.

Age seems to play a major role in whether someone has a will, the FindLaw survey found. Three-quarters of respondents age 65 and older said they have a will, but the percentage drops steadily in younger age groups. Less than half of the people age 54 or younger have a will, the survey found, and for people between the ages of 18 and 24, only about 5 percent have a will.

Additional free information on wills, trusts, and estate planning, including information on finding a local attorney who specializes in estate planning, can be found at estate.findlaw.com.

The FindLaw survey was conducted using a demographically balanced survey of 1,000 American adults.

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