The general media brims with stories on boomers waiting to receive an inheritance, but news is pretty scant about boomers planning to leave an inheritance.
This puts financial advisors in a bind. On the one hand, they want to help boomers develop incomes plan for the 20+ years boomers could spend in retirement. On the other hand, they want to nudge boomers to start planning to leave a legacy, financial and otherwise, so their heirs are provided for. The first is getting easier to do, but not always the second.
This tension shows up in surveys. For instance, only 1 in 3 American workers expect to pass retirement savings on to family members, according to the AXA Equitable Retirement Scope, a survey of 6,900 people in 11 countries published by AXA Equitable, New York.
Meanwhile, the remaining 64% of surveyed Americans believe they’ll spend all their savings during retirement, the survey found.
Christopher Lubbers, president of Heartland Financial Group of Kansas Inc., Parsons, Kan., sees a similar divide. The boomers he encounters tend to be split 50/50 on this issue, he says.
About half have a view that he characterizes as being “all-for-me, spend-it-now, and I’m-counting-on-my-parents-to-leave-me-some-money.” The other half want to “pass-it-on, work-for-accumulation, and leave-it-to-my-kids.”
Not planning to leave an inheritance does not necessarily reflect greed or even disregard for descendents, points out Ken Gelman, vice president and director of market research for AXA.
Rather, he says in a statement accompanying the AXA survey results, it can reveal “insecurity about their ability to simply provide for themselves, let alone their heirs, in retirement, given uncertainty about Social Security and pensions.”
Other environmental factors are at work, too, note advisors. “Boomers are the first generation in history that, de facto, won’t be better off than their parents,” explains Cory Grant, managing partner at Westhem Grant Group LLC, Solana Beach, Calif.
Many boomers are dealing with parents who are still alive and also with adult kids who, in their 20s and 30s, are coming back home to live or who need money from their parents for a down payment on a house, he explains.
Some of the gifts boomers make to their adult children have been planned for some time, he allows. However, in other cases, “it’s not what they planned,” with the result that “the boomer can’t focus on leaving an inheritance right now.”
The question for advisors is, what to do about nudging boomers to start planning their estates? Or, should they do nothing at all?
“Our calling is actually an opportunity to intersect with other people and get them to think past themselves,” says Paul Funkhouser, an advisor with Gateway Financial Resources, O’Fallon, Ill.
“The advisor needs to help the boomer move from a focus on the accumulation of wealth to preservation and passing on,” he says. “We have to train the boomers.”
The window of opportunity will occur, he predicts, if the advisor cultivates the soil. The cultivation entails educating the client on legacy issues, helping the boomers identify their values and what is most important in their lives, asking what is important about the family, etc.
A good time to raise the topic is when the boomer has achieved some professional success and has some wealth as a result, Funkhouser adds. Specifically, “talk with the boomers about the money they have received and how they can pass that on.”
Turn the discussion towards how to be stewards of the assets, he suggests, and remind the boomer that “you don’t take them [the assets] with you” upon death.
If this conversation doesn’t happen, he contends, “you don’t have an estate planning client.”
Lubbers points out that it takes time to sort out into which category a boomer client may fall: the all-for-me category or the pass-it-on category. After he does that, he decides which direction to go.
His approach: Have a casual conversation with the boomer. Ask about finances, what’s important to the person, what he or she is trying to accomplish, the family situation, etc.
“Some boomers will flat out say whether they intend to leave anything to their kids,” Lubbers says.
If they don’t say, the advisor can notice how they describe their lives. For instance, Lubbers says he has noticed that boomers who put away a good percentage of their own incomes tend to want to leave an inheritance to their kids. “Typically, they are in a dual-income family. They see their parents living a long time, and they want to protect their assets, not waste them.” They will come back for visits, and they talk easily about their plans, he says.
Other boomers may indicate that they have not accumulated as much as they should have, he continues. Often, they are looking to get something from someone else rather than thinking about what to leave to their own heirs. These are boomers who usually have not yet planned to leave an inheritance, he says.
Even some wealthy boomers have not yet started planning, Lubbers notes. They tend to focus more on getting something from someone else, he says. “They’ll say something like, ‘Here’s what I have and I want to get the best return’…You have to encourage them or push them a bit to think differently and to come back for more visits.”
Other wealthy boomers are very receptive, however. For instance, Grant of California points out that older boomers, now in their 60s, tend to be wealthier than their younger counterparts. In this case, the advisor can encourage the boomer to start estate planning (if not already done) by raising questions about the non-financial aspects of inheritance, he says.
These boomers often use the internet and generally feel better informed about the financial aspects of life, Grant says. “But they don’t know how to make sure their kids don’t become spoiled. Or, they don’t know how to make sure they pass on their values to their heirs.”
In such instances, the advisor can approach the planning sessions as an educational tool. Specifically, have discussions about family matters that go along with the estate documents, he suggests. Point out that “this is not just a succession plan but also an educational plan.”
For instance, he might point out to such a client that asset preservation is not sufficient. “If we just preserve and don’t improve, that’s not what life is about.”
He does the cash flow analysis to ensure the client is taken care of and won’t run out of money. But he says he then moves on to ways to leave a legacy consistent with the non-financial aspects discussed earlier.
Boomers who receive such an education end up better off and more centered, he says.
What if a boomer still does not want to make a formal estate plan or do any of the related financial activities? “I don’t want them as clients,” says Grant, echoing the views of several advisors contacted by National Underwriter in recent years. “I try to send them to someone else.”
But boomers who have not yet started legacy planning are not always a lost cause.
Grant says he is seeing more boomers who are becoming cognizant of how they invest their money. That is a place to start, he indicates. They are developing “a more self-aware–as opposed to selfish–investment philosophy,” he says, because they don’t want to outlive their money.
Similarly, Lubbers of Kansas has noticed that in the past 2 years, more of the all-for-me boomers have been coming back, saying they don’t want to blow it all, that they need to protect their money and leave something to the kids. An unexpected event often triggers this new attitude, he says. An example is when someone in the family is laid off, making the boomer become worried or panicky. This changes perceptions and expectations, he says.
“When everything is going good, it’s hard (for the boomers) to think that way,” Lubbers observes.
At such times, Lubbers will respond by doing some comprehensive planning, the goal being to “put them in the court” as much as they will allow. If the boomer asks for more, he will then expand the planning.
Can an advisor inject a jolt so the boomer doesn’t have to experience an unfortunate event before being motivated to change?
Perhaps, says Lubbers. “Maybe remind them of layoffs that occurred locally, or talk about someone the boomer knows who had something happen (that upset their plans).”
That’s easier to do in a small town than a big town, he allows. If successful, the advisor then can make the point that things like this could happen to the boomer, too. “It can start the conversation,” he says.
Funkhouser believes that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.
“Too many times, we’re talking to a wall,” he explains, noting that some boomers just say their heirs will get what’s left over–and that’s it. He says he attempts to raise a values-based discussion and to provide some education–for instance, by pointing out that it’s not a plan to say that “the heirs will get what’s left over.” He says he tries to cultivate a relationship of trust. But if he can’t get anywhere, he moves on. It’s a matter of rate of return on emotional investment, he says.
That doesn’t mean Funkhouser gives up on boomers who have not yet planned their estates. “We all go through periods when we are more receptive and less receptive…The boomers will get there.”