Senior Resources » Elder Law » 67% of Adults in the US Have No Will – What Happens if You Die Without a Will?

67% of Adults in the US Have No Will – What Happens if You Die Without a Will?

What Happens if You Die Without a Will?

Drafting a will is perhaps one of the most important parts of any estate plan. It ensures that your money, property, and other assets will be distributed to the people you want to receive them after your death. Even so, around two-thirds of adults in the US have no will. Why are so many Americans paying no heed to such crucial estate planning? It might be because no one wants to face their own mortality. Or it could be that people are simply too busy with day-to-day life and assume there’s plenty of time for planning later. Unfortunately, this indifference comes with a cost. What’s the cost of dying without a will? As it turns out – a lot.


Why are so many Americans dying without a will?

illustration of dying without a will

According to a recent survey conducted by, while the majority of Americans acknowledge the importance of estate planning, they overwhelmingly choose to skip it altogether. Here are some quick stats:

  • 6 in 10 Americans have some sort of retirement account.
  • 1 out of 4 Americans say that recent inflation caused them to see a greater need for financial and estate planning.
  • 64% of adults think having a will is important.
  • Only 34% of Americans have an estate plan.

Why are so many Americans dying without a will? According to the study:

  • 42% say they’re procrastinating.
  • 35% say they feel they don’t have enough assets to leave behind.
  • 15% say they don’t know how to get started.
  • 14% believe estate planning is too expensive.
  • 8% say there’s no one for them to leave their assets to.
  • 7% say they don’t have time.
  • 5% say inflation and other economic circumstances are of concern.

So, what’s the cost of dying without a will?

dying without a will illustration

If you die without a will (or, dying “intestate”), your assets will be frozen until your estate is settled in accordance with state law. Since each state’s laws on intestacy are different, no two situations are alike. However, you can generally expect assets to be distributed using a hierarchy of survivors (first to a spouse, then to children, then your siblings, and so on). Of course, it’s not always as easy as simply counting up the assets, then divvying them up among family members. Dying without a will can lead to a very long, and quite possibly expensive, process for your family. Here are just a few consequences of neglecting your estate plan:

  • The vast majority of estates must go through probate court when a person dies, but having a will and other strategies in place can prevent all the assets from having to go through the process. When a person dies without a will, probate is unavoidable and quite costly. Fees can include court fees, attorney fees, filing fees, accounting fees, and more. Probate fees alone will likely be in the thousands.
  • If your family cannot find important records and documents, such as deeds and account statements, who the assets belong to or to whom they should be granted can become an area of confusion. This will create an even longer probate process and the emotional strain will undoubtedly be plenty.
  • If potential beneficiaries have different objectives, this can also cause an issue among surviving family members. If there is no will when you pass on, your family members are left to sort out the “who gets what,” and oftentimes, that’s easier said than done.

Don’t neglect your estate plan!

estate planning illustration

It’s true. Estate planning…writing a will…it can take up some of your time. It can even be complicated, especially if you have a lot of assets and more than one heir to consider. Be that as it may, the time-suck and attorney fees you’ll incur getting prepared will be next-to-nothing compared to what your family goes through if you have no plan at all. Spare your spouse, children, and favorite nieces and nephews further grief and save them some money by having your will written as soon as possible. When’s the best time to write a will? Right now.

Need more help?

typing on a computer

If you’re looking for help with wills or other parts of estate planning, then check out these resources:


Originally published April 27, 2023

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