Brits more relaxed about death but just 30% have planned for it

12 May 2016
More than half of people in Britain feel more comfortable talking about their own death or that of people close to them than they did five years ago, but just one third have started planning for it, according to research by ComRes on behalf of the annual Dying Matters Awareness Week.*

The study found:

  • Only 1% of 18-24-year-olds say they have written a will
  • 52% agree they have become more comfortable talking about their own death or that of people close to them over last five years
  • But only 35% say they have made a will
  • Two-thirds (67%) would help someone organise or record end of life plans
  • 45% feel talking or thinking about death scares them

The survey of over 2,000 adults in Great Britain found that 52% of people agreed that over the past five years they have become more comfortable talking about their own death or that of people close to them. And 43% felt that over the same period the people that they know have become more comfortable talking about death.

Two-thirds (67%) of people also said they would be happy to help someone they know organise end of life plans. These include planning a funeral, making a will, and arranging advance care plans and lasting power of attorney. 46% of people felt they knew where to find information to help someone else or make their own end of life plans. Most people (61%) felt they knew someone among their own family or friends they could discuss their own end of life plans with, as they disagreed that they would have no one to discuss this with. Nearly half of people (46%) said they would consider it a sign of their closeness to someone if that person asked them for help making end of life plans.

Half of us feel discussing death will bring it closer

However, some people still find it difficult to discuss death and dying, for a variety of reasons. One quarter (25%) of people believe that a medical breakthrough in the near future will extend their life expectancy significantly. Nearly half (45%) admitted that discussing death made it feel closer, and 45% that it scared them to some degree, and as many as one in seven (15%) feel that talking about death will actually make it happen. 30% of us have done nothing towards lanning for our end of life

While people are saying they are increasingly comfortable with talking about death, this still not translating into action. Only 35% of those polled said they had made a will, the same as in 2015, even though 48% said they had discussed it with anyone. Only 28% of men asked have registered as an organ donor, rising to 38% for women. Similarly, 29% of women have discussed their end of life wishes with someone, and only 21% of men. Worryingly, only 7% of people have written down their wishes for their future care. 30% of people say they have not made any of the recommended plans or decisions relating to death and dying.

The survey found that only 1% of 18-24-year-olds reported having written a will, compared to 7% of 25-34-year-olds and  74% of the over 65s. Data from the ONS shows that an average of 0.25% of 15-19-year-olds and 0.35% of 20-24-year-olds die in England and Wales each year (2014 data).

Making a will is a straightforward process 

Younger people should consider getting a will even if they don’t have valuable assets to dispose of, the Law Society of England and Wales said. “Younger people may not think they need a will if they don’t have valuable assets such as a house, or children to provide for," Law Society President Jonathan Smithers said. "However, a will is about much more than that - you can for example protect your digital assets such as Facebook photographs, Paypal accounts and YouTube videos. You can also establish a lasting power of attorney to enable a relative, friend or partner to make decisions on your behalf in case you are unable to do this in the future.

 “Making a will is a straight forward process. A solicitor can help you make your wishes clear.”

Gary Rycroft is a Dying Matters trustee and a solicitor in Lancashire. He commented: "Buying a house for the first time is often a trigger for making a will and so 'Generation Rent' may feel that they have no need to do so. However, a will should deal with much more than passing on land and buildings. If you are a parent it is about appointing a Guardian to look after your kids. In today’s digital world making a will is also about passing on your digital assets such as photograph and music collections and curating your social media presence.”

Words need to be followed by action

Claire Henry, Chief Executive of the National Council for Palliative Care and Dying Matters Coalition, said: “There is a lot of good news in this survey, along with some things that cause concern. It is good to see that so many people not only feel comfortable talking about death, but also that so many feel increasingly comfortable over time. And it’s encouraging that so many people would be willing to help someone else make end of life plans, and that so many feel they have someone they could go to for help.

“But it is concerning that this talk is not resulting in more action to get our plans and affairs in order. Talking about death is nothing to be scared of, and won’t make it happen. We all need to start to have this Big Conversation as part of the way we plan and prepare for all the important things in life. And words need to be followed by action. We need to talk to our loved ones about what we want, sort our plans out, write them down and make sure people know where to find them. Putting our end of life plans in place enables us to get on with living. It takes a weight off our minds, and makes things easier for those we love as well.”

Dying Matters Awareness Week runs from May 9-15, with events across the country, from death cafes to graffiti boards to record final wishes.


Download the full report


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*ComRes interviewed 2,085 British adults online between the 15th and 17th of April 2016. Data was weighted to be representative of British adults aged 18+.


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