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What Kind of Inheritance Do You Owe Your Kids?

There's no right answer, but you may need to make some plans

By Bart Astor | April 30, 2014
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Bart Astor, an expert in life transitions and elder care, is the author of the book AARP Roadmap for the Rest of Your Life: Smart Choices About Money, Health, Work, Lifestyle and Pursuing Your Dreams and Baby Boomer’s Guide to Caring for Aging Parents. His website is BartAstor.com and he can be reached at Bart@BartAstor.com.

“I don’t believe in inheriting money,” CNN host Anderson Cooper recently told Howard Stern on Stern's radio show. Added Cooper, a son of designer and heiress Gloria Vanderbilt: “I think it’s an initiative sucker. I think it’s a curse.”
 
Cooper acknowledges that it's easy for him to say so, given his multimillion-dollar TV salary. But his attitude toward inheritances is not unique.
 
Only 46 percent of boomers believe it’s important to leave an inheritance to loved ones, according to a new survey by the Insured Retirement Institute, a retirement-income industry group. In the past, that figure was closer to two-thirds.
 
(MORE: What Heirs Want Even More Than Money)

While many in midlife expect to spend everything they have before they die, others are planning diligently to ensure their heirs are taken care of appropriately and that Uncle Sam won’t take too large a share of their estate.

To Bequest or Not to Bequest...
 
How about you?
 
Do you endorse Cooper’s attitude that inheriting money is a curse? Or do you want to preserve all you can and provide for your kids, grandkids or perhaps to a cause you believe in? If so, have you taken steps to make sure that happens in an efficient and effective way?
 
Alice Anselmo, a financial adviser with UBS in Red Bank, N.J. frequently poses questions like these to her clients and says there’s no right answer.
 
“I have some clients who feel adamant that they made their money and don’t want to give it to anyone,” says Anselmo. Other clients “come with the attitude that they’re going to live forever.” Says Anselmo: “It’s not that they don’t care about leaving a legacy, it’s just that they don’t want to face their mortality.”
 
(MORE: Talking With Adult Kids About Their Inheritance)
 
Planning Is Key for Inheritances

But financial planners, eldercare attorneys and accountants are quick to point out that if you want to leave an inheritance but don’t make the proper plans for it, you’re setting up yourself and your heirs for multiple problems.
 
Without having everything in place, there’s no guarantee that whatever wealth is there will be distributed as you wish. On top of that, the federal and state government might wind up taking more out of your estate in taxes than necessary.
 
Some people, Anselmo adds, don’t make inheritance plans because they have no heirs or strong attachments to anyone or anything — or think they don’t.
 
She mentioned one client who has significant wealth but no children or close family. “When I pointed out that she does indeed have some strong feelings about her dog, whom she adopted from a shelter, and to the library system from which she has borrowed literally hundreds of books, it was an eye opening moment for her,” Anselmo says.
 
Eventually, Anselmo, her client and an attorney cobbled together the documents needed to ensure that some of the woman’s estate would go to needy animal shelters and libraries.
 
Beyond Leaving Money: Leaving a Legacy

Financial advisers also say that it’s important to view your inheritance beyond money or assets. Ask yourself: How do I want to pass down my legacy?
 
As I’ve written on Next Avenue, and in my best-selling book, Roadmap for the Rest of Your Life, over the course of our lifetimes, we’ve all made an impact in one way or another — on people and on the world around us. To continue having an impact after your death, you can take steps now to help advance your legacy.

For example, you can write down your personal history — a legacy letter, if you will — for future generations to read. It would explain who you are, what you believe in, what you have learned and what you hope your heirs will value.
 
Alternatively, you can contribute to a charitable cause that reflects your values, perhaps including in your will or trust specific bequests that the group will receive after you die.
 
An Adviser Can Be a Big Help

If you’re inclined to provide some sort of inheritance for your children or grandchildren, you need to make plans for it. Working with a reputable financial adviser is one way to accomplish that.
 
In fact, working with an adviser is likely to increase the amount you’ll be able to leave your heirs. In the Insured Retirement Institute survey, 53 percent of boomers who work with advisers said they’re confident about their retirement planning, while only 21 percent of those without advisers felt that way.