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Industry Spotlight > Women in Wealth

Boomers to inherit more than $11 trillion

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According to Metlife’s Study of Inheritance and Wealth Transfer to Baby Boomers, there may be a glimmer of hope for baby boomers, many financially burdened, who could possibly inherit more than $8 trillion, mostly from parents and grandparents. Two-thirds of all boomers are set to receive some inheritance in their lifetime.

The study also reports boomers have or will receive a substantial sum from their parents while they are still alive, which increases the total transfer of wealth to $11.6 trillion.

The median inheritance per person is $64,000, and $2.4 trillion has already been given. The wealthiest boomers expect to receive an average of $1.5 million, and the least wealthy will be left $27,000, a sum that represents a larger percentage of the latter group’s overall wealth.

Total household wealth for Americans of all ages amounted to $65.9 trillion in 2007, adjusted to 2009 levels, making the boomers’ inheritance a significant portion of total American wealth.

However, Sandra Timmermann, Ed.D., director of the MetLife Mature Market Institute, cautions that any anticipated inheritance is not guaranteed.

She says, “Parents or grandparents who expect to leave a bequest may revise their plans based on fluctuations in their asset values. Wealth may be consumed by medical and long-term care costs, or simply by virtue of long life. In short, Boomer households should not count on an anticipated inheritance and forego the need for increased financial planning and retirement saving.”

And Alicia H. Munnell, a co-author of the study and director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, warns policymakers that these projected inheritances are not a “silver bullet” to retirement security.

“[Policymakers] should be developing policies and programs to boost Americans’ savings and promote longer work lives,” she says.

She also recommends families have discussions about inheritance and estate planning. She says, “While not everyone will be comfortable engaging on this topic, those who do so will likely find it helpful. A trusted family financial advisor may be useful in this regard.”

Here are some key findings from the study:

  • Sixty-three percent of inheritances and 74 percent of dollars are from parents to children, and the grandparents are the second most common source. Most boomers will receive their inheritance in late middle age.
  • Although only 17 percent of boomers had received an inheritance by 2007, two-thirds will eventually receive one.
  • High-wealth households receive much larger inheritances in dollar terms, but these amounts represent only 22 percent of their wealth, compared to 64 percent for those in the second-to-bottom tenth.
  • The adjusted-for-inflation median amount boomers received by 2007 is about the same as the amount received by the preceding 1927-1945 birth group at the same ages.


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