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1 in 5 People Who Died of COVID-19 Did Not Have an Estate Plan

Written By: Daniel Cobb, Managing Editor

Date Updated: June, 2022

Key findings: 

  • 1 in 5 Americans had no estate plan established before dying of a serious case of COVID-19.
  • Americans who survived a serious case of COVID-19 are 66% more likely to engage in estate planning than others.
  • 41% of Americans who witnessed a loved one battling a serious case of COVID-19 have established a will, compared to only 29% who’ve never had first- or second-hand experience with a serious case of COVID-19.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a massive impact on our world that we are still coming to grips with today. We were unprepared for the challenges and changes that have occurred in the last two years, both collectively and individually. Many people were not properly prepared when COVID-19 hit, including their end-of-life planning.

A new survey released by shows that 1 out of 5 Americans had no estate plan in place before dying from COVID-19, leaving loved ones to not only grapple with their loss, but also the stress and difficulties caused by not having estate planning documents.

“Dying without an estate plan significantly adds to the burdens carried by loved ones after a death,” says Patrick Hicks, General Counsel and Head of Legal at Trust & Will. “A complete estate plan may allow loved ones to bypass probate and many administrative hassles after a death. Additionally, having an estate plan can even be a source of comfort in a time of emotional turmoil and provide loved ones with clear instructions on the decedent’s last wishes. For many, this provides a sense of purpose that can overcome feelings of helplessness and loss that often follow a death.”

Covid Casualties: 1 in 5 Americans Had No Estate Plan Before Dying

In a survey conducted in partnership with Pollfish in early 2022, surveyed 1,000 Americans who lost a family member (immediate or extended) to a serious case of COVID-19 to ask if their loved one filed any legally recognized estate planning documentation prior to their death. Nearly half (44%) said their loved one either hadn’t filed any documents or they weren’t aware of any. Among those who did have an estate plan in place, 23% percent established a will, 18% a living trust and 16% a different kind of estate plan.

The news isn’t all grim, however. The seriousness of COVID-19 served as a wake-up call for many. Nearly half of all those who’ve had a serious case of COVID-19 (such as hospitalization, long-term effects, death, etc.) have estate planning documents – that’s a 66% increase compared to those who haven’t had first- or second-hand experience with a serious case of COVID-19.

This year,’s annual estate planning survey asked respondents whether they or a loved one had a serious case of COVID-19, and whether COVID-19 motivated them to engage in estate planning. Below are the results of our annual survey as it relates to the impact of COVID-19 on estate planning.

This report is based on two separate surveys – both conducted in early 2022. The first was conducted in partnership with Pollfish, and surveyed 1,000 Americans who lost a family member due to COVID-19. The second survey is our annual estate planning survey that was conducted in partnership with YouGov and surveyed 2,600+ American adults. For more information on this survey’s methodology and to see the full results, read the 2022 Wills and Estate Planning Study.

COVID-19 Is Motivating Americans to Get a Will – Especially After Contracting COVID-19

Nearly Half of all Those Who Had a Serious Case of COVID-19 Now Have Estate Planning Documents’s 2022 Estate Planning Study found that those who had personal experience with a serious case of COVID-19 (either themselves or a loved one) are much more likely to have a will than those who haven’t come face to face with the dangers of COVID-19. 48% of those who had a serious case of COVID-19 said they have a will, while 42% of respondents with second-hand serious COVID-19 experience have an estate planning document. Conversely, only 29% of Americans without first or second-hand experience with COVID-19 said they have a will, living trust, or any estate planning document – that’s a 66% decrease from those who’ve had first-hand experience with the virus.

Prevalence of Estate Planning by Exposure to a Serious Case of Covid-19

According to Patrick Hicks, this trend is not unexpected. “Many people who lack an estate plan have fallen victim to the belief that they do not need an estate plan yet, or estate planning can be deferred until later. Experiencing a severe illness or a death in the family often helps individuals recognize the importance of having a plan in place before it is needed.”

Young Adults Are Most Motivated to Engage in Estate Planning Due to COVID-19

Our study found that 18-34 year-olds are the most motivated by COVID-19 to engage in estate planning, with nearly 1 in 3 (29%) taking further steps to obtain estate planning documents.

Both middle-aged and senior U.S. adults are less likely to be motivated by COVID-19 to engage in estate planning. Only 22% of those in the 35-54 age group have taken further steps in estate planning because of COVID-19. This number drops even further for older adults – only 13% of those who are 55 or older were motivated by COVID-19 to take action to get a will.

Percentage of Age Groups Motivated by Covid-19 to Act on Estate Planning

Americans Are More Likely To Talk To Loved Ones About Estate Planning After A Close Encounter With COVID

Nearly 1 in 3 Americans Who Experienced a Serious Case of COVID-19 Were Motivated to Discuss Estate Planning

Although having or witnessing a serious case of COVID prompted many Americans to engage in estate planning, even those who didn’t follow through were at least prompted to start the conversation about estate planning – a crucial first step.

“Communicating about your estate plan and your wishes can be incredibly helpful in ensuring your wishes are known and carried out in the way you have chosen,” says Hicks. “For many, starting the conversation about estate planning is a way to break through the unease of discussing death and mortality. Those conversations help identify preferences and priorities that can then be reflected in a written estate plan. Additionally, these conversations can help communicate those choices to loved ones.”

Those who had (or know someone who has had) a serious case of COVID are more than three times as likely to talk to a loved one about planning their estate than those who haven’t experienced COVID first or second-hand. 30% of those with first-hand experience said COVID-19 motivated them to start the conversation, while only 8% of those without any personal experience said COVID-19 encouraged them to talk about getting a will with a loved one.

Has Covid-19 Motivated You to See a Greater Need for Estate Planning?

Battling A Serious Case Of COVID-19 Serves As A Major Motivator For Americans To Establish an Advanced Health Care Directive (AHCD)

Those Who Personally Battled COVID-19 Were Four Times More Likely to Say it Motivated Them to Obtain an AHCD

Individuals who had a personal experience with a serious case of COVID-19 were more likely to seriously consider and obtain an Advanced Healthcare Directive (AHCD). Only 6% of those without a personal experience of a serious COVID-19 case said that the pandemic prompted them to discuss an ACHD with a loved one. Meanwhile, nearly four times as many people (22%) who had a first-hand experience said this motivated them to start the AHCD discussion.

The trend holds true for those who decided to put their research and discussions into action and actually obtain an AHCD – only 4% of those without personal experience said that COVID-19 motivated them to get an AHCD, while 16% of those with first-hand experience said the same.

Advanced Healthcare Directives Motivated by Covid-19

Overall, only 15% of Americans have an AHCD – less than half the number of those who have a will. Meanwhile, nearly 1 in 5 don’t even know what an Advanced Health Care Directive is.

According to Patrick Hicks, this is worrying because an AHCD is a critical component of a proper estate plan. “Advance care planning — planning for medical treatment during one’s lifetime — is an essential piece of an estate plan. Between continued advances in medical technology and the ongoing impacts of COVID-19, an AHCD is more important than ever before. Many who have created an estate plan find that the decisions made in an AHCD are among the most critical decisions in the entire estate plan.”

Read more related articles at:

67% of Americans have no estate plan, survey finds. Here’s how to get started on one

Estate Planning During the Pandemic

Also, read one of our previous Blogs here:

How Can Estate Planning Protect Me from COVID-19?

Click here to check out our On Demand Video about Estate Planning.

Click here for a short informative video from our own Attorney Bill O’Leary.


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