Wills, public policy, and financial well-being among surviving spouses

Lauren Hersch Nicholas, Micah Y. Baum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The loss of a spouse is widely recognized as a large financial shock to many households. In this paper, we use harmonized, cross-national survey data from the Health and Retirement Study, the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe, and the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing to study will use, inheritance policies, and retained wealth among surviving spouses. We document significant cross-national variation in will use and default spousal inheritance regimes in the absence of a will. Many people die intestate in all study countries, even when they had anticipated leaving a bequest. The vast majority of decedents preparing wills include their spouses, and on average these spouses retain more wealth than spouses of intestate decedents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number100211
JournalJournal of the Economics of Ageing
StatePublished - Jun 2020


  • Inheritance regimes
  • Wealth
  • Widows
  • Wills

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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