Who's got the will 42 percent of American adults report having a will and/or estate plan, including: 39 percent — West Coast adults...

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Most adults say it’s because they don’t have enough assets.

Others believe they’re too young.

And another one out of 10 American adults without an estate plan says they have no plan or even a will because they don’t like thinking about their own death.

But ask any financial planners or attorneys who consult on such matters, and they will attest: None of these excuses should keep an adult from designing a will and estate plan.

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The alternative, experts say, isn’t pretty.


Who’s got the will


42 percent of American adults report having a will and/or estate plan, including:


39 percent —
West Coast adults


46 percent —
Caucasian adults


28 percent —
African-American adults


20 percent —
Hispanic-American adults


No will, no way


Americans with no will or estate plan say:

They think they lack enough assets — 21 percent


Don’t believe they’re old enough —
15 percent


Blame fear of dying or being incapacitated —
8 percent


Report problems following death or incapacitation of loved one, because of lack of, or badly prepared, estate plan —
18 percent

Sources: lawyers.com, a free online database of 440,000 lawyers from legal publishers LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell

“If you don’t have a will when you die, the state of Washington gets to decide” what will happen with your estate, explains lawyers.com’s legal editor Alan Kopit.

“It’s an absolute myth that age or amount of assets should be the central impetus for making an estate plan,” he says. “Even a single, young person with modest possessions may want to control where his or her assets end up.”

And yet, results from a 2004 survey by lawyers.com, an online attorney directory published by LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell, show only 42 percent of American adults have a will or estate plan.

Fewer still — barely 8 percent of Americans — designate a charitable gift in their will or estate plan, according to the National Council on Planned Giving.

While these percentages have changed little in the past few years, one area of estate planning has shown a small recent jump. Bequests — the most common form of estate giving — now account for $21.6 billion in charitable giving, an inflation-adjusted 2003 figure that shows about 10.3 percent growth from earlier years, according to Giving USA.

Lawyers.com survey results also point to another encouraging sign: Americans with estate plans update them regularly. Some 38 percent of survey respondents say they review their plans annually; another 22 percent review them at least once every three years.

Kopit credits some of these changes to the growing numbers of Americans who recognize the personal and financial advantages to estate planning.