America’s wealthy to their kids: Sorry, we’re spending it

April 20, 2011, 12:18 AM UTC

It’s sometimes said that the children of Baby Boomers will be the first generation to be worse off than their parents. Maybe one reason is because Boomers have other things on their minds… well, at least the rich ones.

U.S. Trust recently surveyed 457 wealthy clients ($3 million or more in invetible assets), and found that just 49% believe it’s important to leave a financial inheritence. Even fewer believe in the primacy of making societal contributions (i.e., philanthropy). Sixty-four percent, on the other hand, are really interested in doing some serious travel. 

U.S. Trust refers to this as a “distinct generational mindset” among a survey group that includes many Baby Boomers who are “first-generation wealthy” (96% say they are wealthier than their parents, but just 12% think it’s “highly likely” that their children will achieve the same feat). Not only are such folks not terribly concerned with what happens after they pass – 39% say their estate plans are “not comprehensive” – but the majority has not even fully disclosed the totality of their assets to their children.

“There is an expectation about the wealthy that they have an implicit, sacred responsibility to pass down their fortune to the next generation, and this understanding has shaped expectations about the coming wave of intergenerational wealth transfer,” said Sallie Krawcheck, president of BoA Global Wealth and Investment Management. “Our research, however, uncovered… changing views about what retirement means and an evolving sense of what one generation owes the next.”

Not quite sure what to make of this. Is it noble, in that the expectation is that children should have to make their own way in the world? It is selfish narcisism? Is it laziness — hoping that things will work out for the best without taking the steps to ensure such an outcome?

Obviously I’m not suggesting we shed tears for children of privilege, even if that privilege came at the expense of quality family time (47% suggested something along those lines). But in an age where everyone talks about the debt we’re putting on our children and grandchildren, it’s worth noting that our nation’s wealthiest seem unconcerned with their own offspring’s inheritance.

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