Can Incentives Increase the Writing of Wills? An Experiment

Mobile Share Email Facebook Twitter LinkedIn


Writing a will can improve the transmission of wealth across generations, by preventing the dissipation of assets such as a family home when divided among multiple heirs, as well as, potentially, by focusing the mind of donors on their legacy and promoting savings. However, many individuals do not have a will, a particularly common situation among Black and lower socioeconomic status individuals. This paper reports on a randomized control trial testing whether the occasion of getting a mortgage might be an opportune time to encourage individuals to write a will. The findings are that the mortgage setting is already overwhelming for many individuals and is not a good time for additional bureaucratic burdens. This is particularly true for Black and less financially-sophisticated individuals. Furthermore, offering modest monetary incentives to write a will is suggestively effective, but mostly for those individuals who have little need of a will and are most sophisticated in their thinking about it. Thus, the findings suggest that the setting of when to approach individuals about writing a will is extremely important and that such overtures are most likely to succeed in contexts where individuals are not overly preoccupied with more immediate concerns.