Baby Boomers to Inherit Up to $11.6 Trillion

Median household inheritance would be $64,000, study finds.

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Baby boomers have even more reasons—11.6 trillion of them—to thank the Greatest Generation. According to a new study, the boomer generation (people born between 1946 and 1964) will inherit that many dollars, largely from their parents.

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The numbers are broken into three categories, according to a study commissioned by MetLife and conducted by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. Already, boomers have received $2.4 trillion in inheritances, and they stand to get another $6 trillion. In addition, wealth transfers from living donors have already totaled $1 trillion and could total another $2.2 trillion. On the downside, the study said the economic downturn eventually could reduce these numbers by up to $800 billion.

To date, about 1 in 6 boomer households has received an inheritance, the study found. Eventually, two-thirds of boomer households will receive inherited funds. Of those who do, the median household would receive $64,000, but there is an enormous range of inheritances. Among the wealthiest 10 percent of households, the average inheritance is projected at $1.5 million. Among the least wealthy 10 percent, it's estimated at only $27,000.

Still, it's at the low end of the wealth scale that inheritances will really make a difference for boomers. "Though high-wealth households receive much larger inheritances in dollar terms," the study said, "these amounts represent a smaller share of their wealth—22 percent for those in the top decile compared to 64 percent for those in the second-to-bottom decile."

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As of 2007, nearly 60 percent of boomers had at least one parent who was still living, the study said, and it will be many decades before boomers are finished receiving their financial bequests. The authors tried to estimate whether boomers might someday be as generous as their elders, but said there isn't enough data yet to paint a clear picture.

This money will help many households, according to the study. "A substantial minority can expect to receive amounts that will improve their financial preparedness for retirement, and their ability to pass wealth to succeeding generations."

But it warned that boomer inheritances were "not a silver bullet" and that individual boomers should not rely on expected inheritances. Many factors can reduce or eliminate these bequests. "Boomer households need to make many of their key financial decisions before they ever receive any inheritance," according to the study.

Twitter: @PhilMoeller