Personal Finance

Are You Expecting an Inheritance?

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Last updated on July 25, 2019 Comments: 20

According to a 2004 survey, 21 percent of people born in 1964 or later expect to inherit money from family some time in the future. Many expecting recipients may be in for a surprise, however. A recent article by Ron Lieber at the New York Times identifies eight reasons why inheritances, perhaps not those in rich families but in well-off middle class families, may be diminishing over the next generation or two.

1. People who make it to 65 will live a lot longer. More time alive requires more expenses, and in many cases this is significant. The cost of care for elderly seems to grow exponentially with increasing age.

Try to guess how long your relatives will live using this life expectancy calculator.

2. Social Security and Medicare will probably change. It’s a safe bet that the goverment will be cutting back on the services offered by these programs as more people require the services and fewer people are paying the associated taxes. Therefore, more expenses will need to be covered by your relatives’ nest eggs, otherwise known as your potential inheritance.

3. Fewer people have pensions, so they’re more wedded to the markets. With a nest egg invested in the market for long term growth, the funds are subject to the swings of the stock market. A down market at the wrong time could reduce your inheritance by ten percent. Say goodbye to your summer home.

Also, a down market during any time during your relatives’ retirement means that more of their principal will go towards paying their own expenses.

4. Out-of-pocket health care costs for retirees may soon hit seven figures a couple. A 55-year-old couple with above average medical costs can be expected to need more than $1,000,000 in capital just to finance health case costs for the rest of their lives.

5. Divorced individuals may pass on less money. Leaving an inheritance to children is often a joint endeavor. Without a connection between husband and wife, one might not be willing to pass wealth onto kids seen as the other’s.

The divorce rate in the United States has been declining recently, but the rate of co-habitation (opposed to marriage) is increasing. The supposed colatile nature of co-habitation may have the same financial impact to heirs as divorce does.

6. It’s getting easier to drain a home’s equity. The reverse mortgage is an increasingly popular way to turn one of your largest assets in retirement into an income stream. A cash-strapped retirees can find himself selling his house back to a bank, and when the house is sold, the proceeds go to the bank rather than to the family.

7. Life insurance may not offer much help. Many people have the opportunity to sell life insurance policies to investors. When someone does so, the benefits normally received by the insured become the property of the investor, leaving less to pass to the next generation.

8. The transfer of wealth will increasingly happen while the older generations are still alive. Rom points out that grandparents are increasingly helping grandchildren with education expenses, as the cost of a college degree continues to skyrocket. Whether these types of transfers are intended to reduce estate tax liability or simply help their relatives in the best means possible, it reduces the size of the estate that would theoretically be available for inheritance.

All of the above trends considered, I think it’s safer for most of us to assume there is no inheritance on the way. With this in mind, without the thought of being bailed out in the future, it can force some of us to be more mindful about spending today.

8 Reasons You Should Not Expect an Inheritance, Ron Lieber, New York Times, June 21, 2008.

Article comments

Anonymous says:

I don’t plan to inherit any significant sum. I try to balance my finances in such a way that I won’t ever need that type of windfall to reach my goals. That said, there is potential for an inheritance to come my way. My parents and my wife’s parents are upper middle class and have set money aside for their future. I honestly hope that they put all of their money toward enjoying their lives to the fullest while they are around, but who knows if something may be left when they pass. My wife has significantly wealthy grandparents as well, but they have a dedication to charity and a long standing tradition of giving to a particular educational institution (there is already one campus building that bears the family name). I’m not going to lay claim on the fruits of another’s labor.

Anonymous says:

I am often tempted to speculate about these sorts of things–it is nice to imagine a time in the future where money will not be of (daily) concern because of an inheritance. But it is better–practically, emotionally, spiritually, financially–to expect nothing, and plan to provide for yourself and your family without help. I do not want our children to be stuck with the huge burden of having to support us in our old age (although I hope they will love us enough to have wanted to!).

My wife comes from a well-off family: her grandmother is sitting on 15-18 million in farmland, uncles and father are all in real-estate. But because of the family “drama” (i.e. the “me”-centered entitlement attitude all her relatives possess), we pretty much expect nothing. Life is a lot less stressful this way. Meanwhile we are watching many of her cousins go into debt, mismanage their personal finances, abuse relationships, and even steal from each other, underscoring just how DAMAGING it can be if one lives his life with the expectation that if you can just hold out a little longer, someone will bail you out with a lot of money. This is irresponsible, and stupid.

Anonymous says:

There’s an inheritance coming Jason’s way, but the plan is to do what his parents and grandparents and great-grandparents did – not touch it. The money in the inheritance has essentially been building up for generations without being drawn against and has steadily increased (my in-laws’ modest home in Orange County, CA, for example, was designed by a famous architect and could probably fetch 7 figures). In a way, it’s a little sad that the money hasn’t been used, but Jason’s entire family is very much the Millionaires Next Door; even if the money was sitting in their checking account and not in trust for Jason and his sister (and now me, since I’ve been added to the will along with our future children), I doubt they’d spend a penny of it.

My family, on the other hand, is dirt poor. Out of all of us – my mom, my deceased father and his wife, my three siblings – I am, by far, the “richest.” Heck, my family was borrowing money from me when I was in college. I don’t expect my mom to ever retire by choice, and she’s sick enough that her life expectancy is shorter than it would be otherwise (and she’s 64 right now).

Anonymous says:

Very commendable of you Smithee…helping out your folks and all. Many people slack on that.

My folks have a very decent seven-figure nest egg waiting for them when they retire, plus a house that they brought for 85K and is now worth just shy of $1 million. They made it very clear to my brother and me that we get the house but not one cent of their nest egg, which is fine with us. My brother and I have discussed this and have decided to keep the house in the family name and not sell it; therefore, we have will have no cash from our parents when the time comes…unless we decide at the last minute to sell the place.

The Millionaire Next Door does point out that a big chunk of of those thrifty millionaires didn’t get any inheritance and still did quite well. As long as I work hard, I think that I can do what they did.

Smithee says:

I expect to get nothing, and furthermore, I expect to have to help my parents if they ever decide to go the Assisted Living Facility route. My parents were both close to 60 before they were even out of debt, which is one more reason why I’m not having kids.

Anonymous says:

If my parents both died right now, I’d inherit a fairly large amount of money, but I’m certainly not figuring that’ll be the case when they do die–particularly since both grandmothers turn 90 this year, so I’m hoping for longevity.

Anonymous says:

I’m with mr. dread. I think I will be able to count on my dad’s marble collection and his funky watch with the tuning fork (Accutron) although I might have to arm-wrestle my brother for the watch.

The thought of inheritances, to me, is pretty depressing, though. I don’t want to base any of my personal life decisions on when my parents kick the bucket. Given my grandparents life expectancy (they all lived well into their 80’s), I’d be wating around another 20 years for some extra money. My wife & I would like to buy a lake house sometime soon when our children are old enough to enjoy yet young enough to still tolerate us – if I were to wait until my dad’s pushing up the daisies, my kids will probably be long gone. So, since I have a specific “want” in my life that has to be purchased, I’d rather figure out how I can make that happen rather than resign myself to having it when my parents die. So to extrapolate, counting on your life getting better in any way when your parents pass away is just morbid and seems like a way to waste time. If you’ve got things you want in life, you’ve got to just go get them.

Anonymous says:

I am expecting an inheritance although probably not a large one.

Anonymous says:

i’ll probably inherit my dads shovel collection and some guns…….

Anonymous says:

My dad gives me a little info on what is going on financially with my grandfather and it makes me realize I will probably be in the same position that my dad is right now. So no inheritance.