There’s a wide gap in understanding between baby boomers and their elderly parents about what to do with an estimated $7 trillion in total wealth the elder generation will hand down to boomer heirs, a study by Allianz Life Insurance Company finds.
The study also suggests financial advisors shouldn’t focus financial discussions too much on how elder clients should divvy up their assets, the top company executive says.
Among the specific “legacy gaps” or missing communications that the Allianz American Legacies Study found were that:
o Nearly 40% of the elder generation (aged 65 and up) said it is very important to pass financial assets or real estate on to their children, while only 10% of boomers (aged 40 to 59) thought that was very important.
o Elders are 7 times more likely than boomers to believe they owe their children an inheritance (22% vs. 3%).
o 68% of boomers and 71% of elders agreed they can discuss confidently key elements of inheritance and legacy planning with the other. Yet less than a third of either actually have done so.
One thing boomers and their parents do agree on: Non-financial legacies, such as morality and religion, are 10 times more important than a financial legacy.
“Many people wrongly assume the most important issue among families is money and wealth transfer,” notes Ken Dychtwald, president of Age Wave Inc., San Francisco, a consulting firm that helped design the study.
For most, however, “legacy transfer has to do with deeper, more emotional issues,” he says.
Dychtwald believes financial advisors should talk to clients in terms of “legacy” rather than “inheritance” when raising the issue of financial planning. The latter term may carry off-putting connotations such as death for many, he says.
For the study, Allianz defined a legacy in terms of four pillars: values and life lessons, instructions and wishes elders want their children to fulfill, personal possessions, and financial assets and real estate.
Without discussions of all those areas, “the legacy conversation between the parent and the boomer child doesn’t happen in a meaningful or effective way,” says Mark Zesbaugh, CEO of Allianz Life, a unit of Allianz AG in Hamburg, Germany.
Advisors should heed that lesson, he suggests.
“If you’re entering a relationship with a client and just pitching product, you’re not going to be very effective,” Zesbaugh says. “Advisors can be more effective if they bring in these other aspects of a legacy rather than just focusing on how to distribute the wealth.”
Among elders, 86% planned to distribute their inheritance equally among their children. Of the remainder, many said children who provided care to their parents should receive more. The wealthier an elder was, the more likely they were to feel assets should be divided according to merit.
The survey examined what Dychtwald believes could be the hidden decision-maker for many elders: the Alpha child.
Where there is more than one sibling, the Alpha child is the one to whom the parents are most likely to turn first, he explains.
Among elders who had more than one child, 42% said they had an Alpha child. Of those identified as Alpha children, 74% had discussed inheritance and legacy with their parents.
Another essential finding of the study, Zesbaugh emphasizes, is that both boomers and their elderly parents stress favorable personality traits over fiscal knowledge when choosing a financial advisor.
The top qualities both groups looked for: being honest and trustworthy (74% of boomers and 67% of elders); the ability to explain matters clearly (66% and 56%); and being a good listener (58% and 46%).
The survey, conducted by Harris Interactive, Rochester, N.Y., interviewed 1,282 U.S. adults aged 40 to 59 and 1,345 aged 65 and over, all with assets of at least $250,000.