Why People of Color Are Less Likely to Have a Will

    CR survey results find that fewer nonwhite people have a will compared with white people. Here’s why it’s worth it to have one.

    multi-generational family gathered with grandparent holding paperwork in front of them
    Creating a will can help ensure that your assets go to the people you choose.
    Photo: Getty Images

    If you haven’t created a will to put in writing where you want your assets to go in the event of your death, you’re not alone. Many people are in the same boat, and this is more so the case among people of color, according to a nationally representative Consumer Reports survey (PDF) of 2,224 U.S. adults on wills and estate planning conducted in April.

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    And while 61 percent of whites and 67 percent of English-speaking Asians don’t have a will, a larger percentage of Black people (77 percent) and Hispanic people (82 percent) don’t have one, CR found.

    Those without a will cited several reasons, including the assumption that they don’t have enough assets (25 percent overall), they’re not sure how to create one (20 percent), they want their next of kin to automatically receive everything (9 percent), they think they’re too young (23 percent), or they just don’t want to think about death (12 percent).

    Americans Who Don’t Have a Will
    By Race/Ethnicity

    Hispanic

    82

    Black, non-Hispanic

    77

    English-Speaking Asian

    67

    White, non-Hispanic

    61
    Source: Consumer Reports nationally representative survey conducted in April 2022 of 2,224 U.S. adults.

    Overall, only 1 in 3 Americans says they have a will. The most commonly selected reason among those without a will was that they plan to but haven’t gotten around to it yet (43 percent).

    But regardless of the reason, it’s important that you have one, even if you have few assets, and even if you’re young. That way you can make sure everything you own gets to the people you choose, without adding the burden of legal challenges to the emotional burden of losing you. Below, in response to some of the reasons people don’t have a will, we explain why you should still have one.

    Some Think They Don't Have Enough Assets
    By Race/Ethnicity

    Hispanics

    27

    White, non-Hispanic

    25

    English-Speaking Asian

    25

    Black, non-Hispanic

    18
    Percentages are among those people who didn't have a will when asked to select reasons why they don't.
    Source: Consumer Reports nationally representative survey conducted in April 2022 of 2,224 U.S. adults.

    “The general belief within the Hispanic community is that wills, and all financial planning topics, are only for rich people,” says Maria Victoria Colón, a certified public accountant who teaches financial literacy on Instagram and Tiktok via the Dinero en Spanglish accounts.

    Colón’s dad died without a will five years ago. She says that while estate planning can cost money upfront, not having a plan can be time-consuming and even more costly for beneficiaries, who have to pay legal fees after their loved one has died.

    CR’s survey found that, indeed, Hispanic people without wills were significantly more likely than Black people to report that a reason why is that they thought they didn’t have enough assets or personal wealth to need one. Black people were the least likely to cite this reason.

    Colón says that so far, she has spent more than $2,500 in legal fees to organize the documents needed for her to receive her father’s assets, and she’s not even done yet. Meanwhile, writing your own will can be as cheap as using a template found online and having it notarized, she says, though she recommends consulting with an estate planning attorney.

    Colón also notes that some employers offer legal services as part of employee benefits, and taking advantage of those can include drawing up a will.

    With a will, you outline who you want to receive your money or other assets, and importantly, an executor, the person you want to make sure it happens. Note though, that any beneficiaries listed on accounts like checking or retirement accounts will go to those you’ve listed as beneficiaries, not those you list on your will.

    “Some people don’t think they have enough assets, especially if they didn’t own property,” as in a home or other real estate, to pass on, says Rasheda Williams, whose grandmother, uncle, mother, and brother died recently without wills and has gone through the probate process, a formal legal process for distributing assets to beneficiaries. “Vehicles, family keepsakes, and other items should be willed,” she learned.

    About 1 in 10 Americans without a will say one reason is that they didn’t think they needed one if they want all their assets to go to their next of kin, according to CR’s survey. But 20 percent of English-speaking Asians without a will made this assumption vs. 9 percent of whites and 6 percent of Black people and Hispanic people who don’t have wills. 

    Yet even though a person is next of kin to the deceased, they can still be required to go through a probate process, and that can cost time and money. 

    Williams says the probate process she went through when her grandmother died took seven months and cost her $700 because her grandmother didn’t have updated bank account beneficiaries, people designated to receive the funds when she died. Williams was designated as a beneficiary on two insurance policies, however, which made the process easier, she says.

    When someone dies without a will, state law where they lived will determine where assets will go, according to assumptions about what the deceased would have chosen, says David Dufault, an estate planning attorney at Sodoma Law in Charlotte, N.C.  But it’s not a one-size-fits-all equation. “There can be issues with minors receiving property, issues with the deceased person not naming his/her choice to raise minor children (absent a surviving parent), and the state choosing who will ‘supervise’ the process,” Dufault says.

    And if you die without a will and your family doesn’t have the “typical” mom, dad, and kids nuclear family structure, it could be more likely that your assets won’t go where you want them to go, says Marty Shenkman, a New York lawyer and board member of the National Association of Estate Planners & Councils.

    A will can help ensure that anything you own gets passed on precisely as you want, not as the state thinks you’d want. Creating one can be free at FreeWill.com, which walks you through the process, or it could cost you from $100 to a few hundred dollars using an online service such as LegalZoom or Trust & Will.

    Or you might choose to work with a lawyer who knows federal and state tax law well, can walk you through the process, and answer any questions you have. The cost for that can vary greatly depending on where you live, who you see, and what you need, Shenkman says.

    You might find lawyers who will charge $1,000 on the more affordable side in a smaller town and easily $6,000 in a city like New York, he says. If you go to an attorney who’s an estate planning specialist, you have a complex plan, and live in a big city, it can even cost up to $10,000, Shenkman says.

    Even just paying $1,000 is a significant amount, but paying that or more can be better than having your assets end up where you didn’t intend for them to go.

    Some Think They're Too Young
    By Race/Ethnicity

    English-Speaking Asian

    29

    Hispanics

    28

    White, non-Hispanic

    24

    Black, non-Hispanic

    11
    Percentages are among those people who didn't have a will when asked to select reasons why they don't.
    Source: Consumer Reports nationally representative survey conducted in April 2022 of 2,224 U.S. adults.

    Not surprisingly, CR’s survey found that older people were more likely to have a will: 63 percent of those 60 and older reported having one compared with 33 percent overall.

    Of any age, 29 percent of English-speaking Asians and 28 percent of Hispanics who don’t have wills said they haven’t set one up because they think they’re too young for one, compared with 11 percent of Blacks without a will who said the same.

    “You are never too young or too old to start planning your finances and your estate,” Colón says. “Whether you are single or not, have parents or not, it is always great to leave your documentation ready in case of an emergency.” And over time, if your situation changes—for instance, you get married and have kids—you can always update your will.

    “If you’re 18, you need a health proxy so somebody can make medical decisions if your parents can’t do it, you need a power of attorney so someone can take care of finances if you get sick or incapacitated, and you need a will for whatever you’ve got,” Shenkman says. “And if you can go online for a cheap will because you don’t have a lot of assets, do it.”

    “I prioritized having one, and I’m only 30 now,” says Fariba Arabghani, who describes herself as a queer, Middle-Eastern, first-generation college student. “I’m fortunate that I’m in a financial position on my own to be able to afford it, and have the higher education and understanding of the English language to navigate the process.” Arabghani’s father died when she was 24, and at the time she didn’t know what a will was, and ended up having to wade through legal paperwork over many months, she says.

    Some Prefer Not to Think About Death
    By Race/Ethnicity

    English-Speaking Asian

    19

    Black, non-Hispanic

    15

    Hispanics

    12

    White, non-Hispanic

    10
    Percentages are among those people who didn't have a will when asked to select reasons why they don't.
    Source: Consumer Reports nationally representative survey conducted in April 2022 of 2,224 US adults.

    CR’s survey found a larger percentage of English-speaking Asians (19 percent among those without a will) and Blacks (15 percent) than whites (10 percent) said that they don’t have a will because they prefer not to think about death.

    Shenkman says people should reframe the situation: “This is not about me dying, this is about taking care of the people I love.”

    Missing a family member will be hard enough. Imagine adding to that stress the need to handle legal issues and probate court because you didn’t leave clear instructions for what to do with assets, and in some cases children, out of fear of talking about death, Colón says. “[That] can be unbearable and financially impossible for some.”

    For Arabghani, a big challenge was how wills and death are perceived in the context of her Iranian culture and Muslim faith. “You’re not supposed to even speak of death openly,” she says. But Arabghani and her younger sister did end up persuading their mother to create a will. “She finally relented and allowed us to do one for her,” Arabghani says. “I reminded her of how difficult it was after Dad passed for us to get everything in order, and how we could never really mourn his loss until it was all done."


    Headshot of CRO Editor Althea Chang-Cook (version 2)

    Althea Chang-Cook

    As a journalist, I've covered food, health, transportation, technology, personal finance, and more. My work has taken me to specialty food events, medical conferences, CES, and numerous auto shows, ultimately bringing me to Consumer Reports. At CR, I use my experience to shape stories that help consumers make informed decisions and build safer, healthier lives. I live in Brooklyn with my husband, son, and three-legged cat.