Legacies Temper Boomer Retirement Spending Plans

The ultimate insurance for some Baby Boomers might be a legacy, which is used to avoid running out of money in retirement.

Parenthood and wealth transfer both play a part in retirement funding, and both are examined in a new study by Hearts & Wallets, the research platform for consumer savings and investing insights.

“Funding Life After Work: Impact of Parenthood & Wealth Transfer on Retirement Solutions for Baby Boomers” explores Boomers’ attitudes toward sources of income in retirement and decisions about whether to tap into capital, sources of advice (including robo-advisers) and the most important financial needs.

The study compares three roughly similar consumer groups: non-parents, parents who spend, and parents who intend to leave an inheritance. The childless households make decisions about $3.5 trillion; the parents who plan to spend it all make decisions about $1.7 trillion, and the parents who intend to leave a legacy make decisions about $3.1 trillion.

“Surprisingly, parents who plan to leave a legacy aren’t necessarily more generous than those who plan to spend it all,” says Laura Varas, Hearts & Wallets co-founder and principal. “They are the most terrified by the big retirement fear: running out of money. To them, leaving an inheritance is the ultimate insurance policy. They may plan to leave only a $100,000 or so, but having that goal reins in spending and guides retirement funding decisions, sometimes to their detriment. They could afford to be a little less frugal and risk averse if they had sources of advice or solutions that acknowledged this fear.”

NEXT: How advisers can address Boomer parent (and non-parent) concerns

The concern of the “Parents Leave Inheritance” group isn’t so much about the heirs, the survey finds. These parents speak of how much money they have, location of important documents and paperwork. Ironically, this group of parents expresses just as much concern for their children. Fiscal responsibility and worry an inheritance will make children irresponsible are two anxieties.

Non-parents voice concern about caregivers as they age. Varas points out that parents have a bigger burden getting to retirement, but non-parents can carry more of a burden once they are there. “Non-parents more often say they are unsure who will help them when they become infirm,” she says. “It’s not so much about the money, but having a trusted caretaker to take them to the doctor and help with bill paying. Parents often see children in these roles.”

Among the survey’s key findings: Although older people have time and experience to be DIY investors, they look to financial professionals for advice with funding decisions. Advisers should take seriously these parents’ goal of providing for children and not downplay it as less important than retirement, Hearts & Wallets advises.

Finding a financial professional—whether adviser, accountant or estate planner—can be challenging, given higher fees that don’t necessarily equal better advice, and finding a clear path through sales pitches. Among Boomers, few participants feel drawn to “robos.” Good advisers continue to bear the burden of peers who did not meet the expectations of consumers, the study notes.

Participants most want help with investment selection, income and tax optimization, giving/estate planning and long-term care. While spending and budgeting are important, most do it alone. Social Security, handling debt and lifestyle budgeting for travel are other goals. Helping parents recover after funding college tuition may be another unmet need for advisers to address. 

Baby Boomers collectively make decisions about $21 trillion in savings and investable assets, according to Hearts & Wallets’ Portrait of U.S. Household Wealth. “Funding Life After Work: Impact of Parenthood & Wealth Transfer on Retirement Solutions for Baby Boomers” focuses on the 5.2 million households between the ages of 53 and 70 who have from $500,000 to $5 million in investable assets, who as a group control about $10 trillion in assets.

More information about the study, including how to purchase, is on the Hearts & Wallets website.