UK Attitudes to Wills: Survey Report

Wills are one of the most important ways for people to protect their assets and ensure their family will be looked after in the event of their deaths - but despite this, many in the UK may not be putting as much thought into their wills and estate planning as they should.

This is according to a survey from the expert solicitors at Percy Hughes & Roberts, which polled a total of 1,083 British adults to find out what steps people across the country have taken to safeguard their legacies. The results of the survey provide some revealing insights into the attitudes many individuals have towards will writing - and the potential legal and familial conflicts that can arise when wills are neglected.

The full findings of our survey can be seen below; please feel free to use our findings for your own content, citing Percy Hughes & Roberts Solicitors at www.phrsolicitors.co.uk if you do so.

Key trends and findings

Most people do not have a will

  • Of those polled, 66% said they do not currently have a will in place

  • Extrapolated across the entire UK adult population, this would equate to as many as 36 million people across the country being at risk of dying intestate

  • According to US investment firm Charles Stanley, the average adult leaves behind £48,000 in assets after they die, meaning those without wills could be putting more than £173 billion worth of assets at risk between them

Most do not update their wills regularly

  • Among respondents who do have a will in place, most originally wrote them several years ago. 30% said their will was written between one and three years ago, while 18% wrote their will between four and six years ago, and 16% did so more than 15 years ago

  • Of those with a will, 69% have never updated them at all, including 56% of those whose wills are more than 15 years old

  • Among those who have updated their will at some point, 62% last did so at least 12 months ago. The largest proportion (37%) updated their will between one and three years ago, while only 15% have done so in the last three months

COVID-19 has not motivated many people to write or update a will

  • When asked for the main reason why they originally wrote their will, 57% said it was to make sure their assets are being left to the right beneficiaries, followed by a desire to determine who will look after their children (21%)

  • When asked for the reasons why they have updated an existing will, the most common answer (18%) was a change of income, followed by the birth of another child (12%)

  • Only 2% said the coronavirus pandemic was the reason why they wrote their will, while only one respondent specifically cited COVID-19 as a motivating factor for updating their will

Many people “haven’t gotten around” to making a will yet

  • Among those who do not have a will, the majority did not cite any particular reason why not. The most common explanation was that they have not gotten around to it yet (37%), with a further 23% have simply not thought about it

  • Other respondents did not seem to believe they needed a will yet, with 28% saying they have no assets to pass on, 22% considering themselves too young to need one, and 16% citing the fact they are still in good health

  • When asked if they plan to write a will in future, 34% said they didn’t know and 19% said they are not going to do so, with only 5% planning to do it in the next three months

Are people waiting to get ill before writing a will?

  • When asked what factors would make them more likely to make a will, the most common response (37%) was falling ill, while 30% cited their advancing age and 29% saying they would do so if they had children or came into money

  • Once again, the COVID-19 pandemic was not seen as a major motivator, with only 11% mentioning this is a factor

  • However, among those surveyed who have already written a will, only 7% said they have made a will because they were already ill, suggesting those who are waiting for their health to decline may be leaving it too late

Do people understand the law around wills and inheritance?

  • When asked if they knew the value of their own assets, most people were confident to some extent, with 28% saying they were very confident and 45% saying they were quite confident

  • However, when asked whether they understand the rules of intestacy - which govern what happens to these assets if someone dies without a will - the view was much more mixed. 46% were either very confident or quite confident, but 39% were not confident about this, including 21% who said they were “not at all confident”

  • With so many people not having an up-to-date will in place, this creates the risk of billions of pounds worth of assets across the UK being given to unspecified people under the rules of intestacy

Most people are not expecting any family conflict over a will

  • Most people are not expecting to encounter disagreements over their own wills, or those of their loved ones. When asked how difficult they would find making the decision of who to leave their assets to, 59% said they expect this to be quite easy or extremely easy, compared to only 19% expecting to find it hard

  • Similarly, 71% said they believe it would be unlikely that their decision of who to leave their assets to would cause a dispute in their family, while 72% say it is unlikely they would take legal action if they were left out of the will of a relative or loved one

  • However, the majority (53%) said they would be disappointed to some degree if they were left out of the will of a close family member or loved one

The complete survey findings

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How long ago did you originally write your will?

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Have you ever updated your will?

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When was the last time you updated your will?

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Why did you choose to update your will?

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Why did you decide to write a will?

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Who have you chosen to leave your assets to?

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Why have you not made a will? (Select all that apply)

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Is making a will something you plan to do in the future?

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Which of the following would make you most likely to make a will? (Select all that apply)

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How difficult would you find making the decision of who to leave your assets to?

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How likely do you think it would be that your decision of who to leave your assets to would cause a dispute within your family?

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To what extent are you confident that you know the total value of your assets?

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To what extent are you confident that you understand the rules of intestacy, i.e. what happens to someone's assets if they die without a will?

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Are you expecting to receive inheritance from a close family member or loved one in the event of their death?

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To what extent would you be disappointed if you were left out of the inheritance of a close family member or loved one?

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To what extent have you already decided how you will use the inheritance you expect to receive?

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What are you expecting to use this inheritance for? (Select all that apply)

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To what extent would you be likely to take legal action if you were left out of the will of a relative or loved one?

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