Much press has been devoted to the “trillions” of dollars in assets that boomers stand to inherit in the coming years. Yet, according to a new report, many adult children, boomers among them, haven’t spoken with their parents about the disposition of estate assets. And a key reason is inertia.

Now in its 6th year, the 2006 Across Generations survey was released by New MainStay Investments, a Parsippany, N.J.-based retail arm of New York Life Investment Management. The study polled 1,512 individuals between the ages of 27 and 83 to measure the differences in investment attitudes and behaviors among generations. These included 4 age groups: GenXers (1965-1979); late baby boomers (1956-1964); early boomers (1946-1955) and seniors (1923-1945).

“The primary goal of [the research] was to discover how financial advisors can better understand the issues most important to their high net-worth clientele,” says MainStay Investments President Chris Blunt. “We wanted to learn about the attributes that help and hurt advisors with clients and what advisors can pro-actively do to put them in the best position to succeed.”

Respondents had at least $250,000 in investable assets. The analysis was broken down by generational cohorts and subdivided by gender. The research had a confidence level of 95%.

Thirty-two percent of married respondents reported they don’t have a last will and testament to help with estate planning and asset transfer, and 39% of married late boomers (average age 46) have no will. The figure among GenX married couples was still higher: 50%.

Seventy-two percent of parents said they would encourage their financial advisor to discuss wealth transfer and estate planning issues with their children. By comparison, 50% of adult children would ask their financial advisor to do the same with their parents. Eighty-nine percent of high net worth respondents said that a financial advisor would be important to manage the assets for the surviving spouse.

The report noted a widely held perception among respondents that emotion and anxiety related to conversations about wealth transfer and estate planning has led to poor communications–if any at all–concerning the whereabouts of assets and other critical documents. In fact, these conversations had not taken place due to inertia among family members. “Haven’t gotten around to it” was the number one reason given by both parents (52%) and adult children (41%) for not talking about the location of assets.

As a result, 32% of parents and 33% of adult children reported they haven’t spoken to their children/parents about the location of financial assets for the purposes of wealth transfer. Thirty-seven percent of adult children said they would not be able to locate their parent’s critical financial documents to settle their parent’s estate easily. Twenty-eight percent of adult children reported that if their parents passed away, they wouldn’t know what to do or whom to contact to settle their estate.

While 13% of parents cited privacy concerns as another reason for not having this conversation, the study found that both parents and children were “open and willing” to discuss the location of assets. Yet, the report observed differences in perceptions on this point.

Although 22% of adult children had the impression that their parents don’t think they should know the location of their assets, only 11% of parents substantiated the same sentiment. In fact, 42% of adult children and 32% of responding parents indicated that they would be more likely to discuss the eventual transfer of assets with their parent/children if a financial advisor initiated or led the discussion. In addition, 70% of parents and 60% of adult children want to get to know each other’s advisor.

The inertia regarding family communications, the study concluded, represents a “tremendous opportunity” for the advisor. That’s especially true when one considers that 47% of children and 46% of parents surveyed agreed that using the same advisor would make managing wealth transfer easier. By providing this service and connecting with extended family members, the report added, advisors “maximize the likelihood” that the assets will remain under their management once the assets have changed hands.

“We have always recognized wealth transfer as one of the greatest opportunities–or threats–for advisors and their books of business,” says Blunt. “We often see first-hand how advisors are hurt when their biggest clients pass on and their assets go away, never to return.

“With this research,” he adds, “we believed we could quantify that there is, in fact, a role to be played–one that is mutually beneficial to advisors and their clients. And these findings did just that for us.”