You will die.
And most of you will leave something for your heirs. (Yes, even your clunker of a car and chipped china might be fought over.)
So my question is: Have you given thought to how to allocate your assets?
Despite the steady drumbeat of reports that Americans aren’t saving enough, there are many people who will actually leave a lot of money.
A study by Accenture estimates that more than $12 trillion in assets are being shifted from those born in the 1920s and 1930s to baby boomers. And over the next several decades, about $30 trillion of wealth will be transferred by baby boomers to their heirs.
“At the peak, between 2031 and 2045, 10 percent of total wealth in the United States will be changing hands every five years,” the Accenture report said.
During a recent online chat, a reader asked me to reconsider my position on parents leaving an inheritance.
I believe people — upon their death — should do with their money what they want, even if it means not equally dividing their estate among their adult children or other heirs. However, I do have a caveat to that position, which I’ll address later.
The reader pointed out this inheritance story from a colleague’s advice column (online at wapo.st/hax0829): “My maternal grandparents gave all their money to my aunt. They said my mom didn’t need it because she ‘married well.’ Soon after my grandparents passed away, my dad did, too. My mom was a struggling widow. And then, my aunt passed away. All that grandparental dough went to her sons — my cousins — who squandered it. It is now 30 years later, and my mom has always struggled. She really could have used any portion of that money. And she never recovered from the hurt feelings, either.”
In response to this story, the chat participant wrote: “I thought the writer’s perspective was unique. You never know how your children’s situations may change.”
I understand that people’s financial circumstances change. Nonetheless, the disinherited daughter is guilty of giving into a sense of entitlement. She chose to stay wounded for 30 years because she didn’t receive money that wasn’t hers.
It was her grandparents’ money to distribute as they saw fit at the time. And they thought their other child was in more need.
In a discussion about long-term care insurance, certified financial planner Carolyn McClanahan mentioned that some adult children don’t want to spend down the money their parents saved for fear of being criticized by other heirs. One of McClanahan’s clients had a full-time job and would take care of her mother before work and after. But the daughter needed help. The mother had plenty of money to pay for long-term care. Yet the daughter was reluctant to spend it because her brother, who lived across the country, was giving her grief about how much would be spent.
“He did not say it directly, but he was not in a good place financially, and we are pretty certain [his griping] was because [any spending] would reduce his inheritance,” McClanahan said.
After the mother died, that proved to be the case. The son questioned every expense his sister paid for out of the estate, McClanahan recalled.
“Too often, family members who are the caretakers are not given consideration for the time they spend providing care,” she said. “The estate is usually evenly divided, and this often causes resentment.”
McClanahan said at her financial planning practice, her staff tries to mitigate estate battles by coming up with family agreements in advance on who will be responsible for care and what consideration they will be given.
“Ideally, they are paid for their time and effort during their time of service,” she said. “If that is not feasible because of limited resources, we discuss how to compensate them in the estate plan. We also work with families to create transparency around finances so everyone is clear that nothing nefarious is occurring.”
Now about that caveat: Do what you wish with your money, but think about the upheaval you will leave if you purposefully leave an adult child or children out of your will.
Or think about the character of your children and the resentments — and court battles — your estate plan may cause if your assets aren’t divided in a manner your heirs will consider just.
And to you potential heirs: Keep in mind that you aren’t entitled to other people’s money, even your parents’. And that equal is sometimes not fair. And that fair is sometimes not being equal.