You may be surprised by the title’s assertion that nothing has changed in the last 30 years in estate planning. After all, during that period we have seen the rise in popularity of living trust-based planning, and the development of many sophisticated and elaborate planning tools for affluent families. But one thing that hasn’t changed in all these years is the percentage of American adults who are participating in estate planning!

During the 1980s, numerous studies showed that more than half of the adult population had no will or estate plan. In 2007, Harris interactive for Martindale-Hubbell published a study that said for the previous three years approximately 55% of all adult Americans still didn’t have a will.

In 2011, an EZLaw Wills & Estate Planning survey revealed that although 60% of those surveyed said they believe all adults should have estate plans, 56% said they didn’t have one.

So why, after years of public seminars, hundreds of books, and thousands of articles on estate planning are adult Americans still unresponsive to the importance of estate planning? It’s easy to understand why young adults might be ambivalent. After all, they believe they are in the prime of their life and are blessed with a feeling of immortality. They’ve heard that we are all living much longer lives due to advances in medicine, and they are more concerned with weight and style and friends than they are planning for their eventual demise. Of course, the reality is that life is uncertain, regardless of your age.

You would think that middle aged people would be more interested in estate planning, but they don’t do much better. Their concerns tend to go more to housing, careers, and college educations. Most figure they still have plenty of time to worry about planning later.

Of course, the elderly are more aware of the time constraints, so certainly they will take care of their estate planning. However, the participation rate is roughly the same, regardless of age! Even those who are advanced in years are busy living their lives and don’t want to think about their own mortality.

Other reasons (or excuses) people use for not planning include these:

  • “I don’t have enough money or assets to worry about planning.”
  • “It’s much too complicated to deal with right now.”
  • “I don’t know who to trust to tell me what to do.”
  • “I’m too busy worrying about day-to-day life – paying bills and surviving to think about estate planning.”

Perhaps the best way to help people understand the importance of estate planning is to emphasize that it is not merely a legal or financial exercise – it is an act of love for people they care about.

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