Rich Parents Agree: $63 Million Is Too Much Inheritance

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Average family office assets under management globally and total family net worth.
Average family office assets under management globally and total family net worth.

For parents wondering how much is too much to leave their heirs, Merrill Lynch has a suggestion.

On average, $63 million out of $100 million is perceived as “too much” to give one child, according to a survey of high net-worth individuals by Bank of America Corp.’s Merrill Lynch unit. About half are concerned about leaving excessive amounts to their offspring, for fear of creating a sense of entitlement. Fortunately for the kids, $26 million out of every $100 million is seen as too little.

“There’s a lot of intensity around these questions,” Stacy Allred, a managing director in Merrill Lynch’s private banking and investment group, said of family dynamics associated with wealth transfer.

As the ranks of the rich have exploded in recent decades, there’s never been more at stake. An estimated $59 trillion will be transferred from American estates from 2007 to 2061, the greatest transfer in U.S. history, according to a 2014 report by the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College.

The burden of estate taxes is a major concern to the 206 respondents of Merrill Lynch’s survey. Each individual had $5 million or more in investable assets -- about the amount at which the levy kicks in.

More than 85 percent said “I will do as much as possible within the rules to minimize taxes.”

Among respondents, 91 percent said they planned to give the majority of their wealth to family members, according to the survey. Just 4 percent said that philanthropy first came to mind.

Survey Purpose

The purpose of the survey was to understand the intentions behind individual decisions when transferring wealth. Generational giving isn’t always seen in a positive light, the report said.

One blog that compiles photos of children of the wealthy from social media gives the impression that the next generation in wealthy families spend all their time drinking champagne on yachts, flying private jets to St. Tropez, or deciding whether to take the Bentley or the Ferrari for a spin,” according to the report.

These stereotypes may encourage families to avoid the topic, which can impede defining priorities of giving, the report said.

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