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.