Wealthy Aren't Attaching Many Strings To Inheritances

Only 30 percent of high-net-worth individuals leave instructions that dictate how their heirs may receive inheritances.

Incentives in a trust or will can be motivators for beneficiaries to follow the giver's wishes but only a minority incorporate any such language into their estate planning documents, according to PNC Financial Services in Pittsburgh.

"When it comes to leaving a legacy, too few individuals are taking the steps to ensure their heirs do not have unfettered access to their money," says Martyn Babitz, senior vice president of PNC Wealth Management.

This is true despite the fact that 62 percent of wealthy individuals believe that each generation should take responsibility for creating its own wealth.

The disconnect, it seems, comes in the estate-planning process, where specific requirements can be incorporated into documents stipulating a benefactor's "will." These requirements can promote and sustain a legacy.

Most inheritors of large amounts of money end up spending it all within two generations. Stipulations can thwart such recklessness.

"With incentive trusts you can promote beneficial work and a valuable contribution to society as opposed to treating family assets as an entitlement," Babitz says.

There are many examples of wishes that benefactors can incorporate into a trust or will. For example, some trusts require recipients to reach a certain age or successfully complete a college education before they receive any of their inheritance money. Others have included more-subjective strings, such as requiring an individual to hold a productive job, start a business or do certain work that is beneficial to society such as teaching or social work.

But it is the disincentives that are perhaps the most controversial. Some wills and trusts have instructions that heirs avoid personally destructive behaviors, such as drug or alcohol use or that they marry within a particular faith or religion.

"Often, the grantor of the trust is trying to prevent a beneficiary from dropping out of society altogether or to motivate him or her to work rather than live solely off of their inheritance," Babitz says.

Of those who have attached stipulations to their will or trust, the survey revealed the top wishes as follows:

77 percent earmarked funds to be used for education 46 percent identified funds to be used for basic needs (such as housing) 29 percent set aside funds for the next generation 28 percent identified funds for business or career-related expenses 16 percent identified funds to be used for specific charitable donations

And the richer people are the more likely it is that they will have wishes and/or stipulations to their estate plans.

Assets, age change outlook

PNC found that more than half of those people with $10 million in assets require heirs to satisfy certain terms such as age, education or maintaining a satisfactory job before they are allowed access to their inheritance. The less wealthy, the fewer requirements are put into place, PNC found.

However, when it comes to age, the opposite is true: the higher the number, the less incentives are attached to estate plans; 56 percent of those in the 18 to 44 age range say they have attached stipulations, while only 27 percent of those 45 to 64 and 19 percent over 65 have done so, according to PNC.

Still, this does not mean younger people with more money are leaving heirs out in the cold. A majority of wealthy people, 74 percent, say they plan to leave money to their children, 61 percent plan to leave money to a spouse, 32 percent plan to bequeath money to grandchildren and 30 percent intend to leave assets to charity.

The issue of high-net-worth inheritances isn't so much about how much beneficiaries receive but how they receive it. There is an opportunity via estate planning to instill values in future generations and create legacies wealthy people can be proud of. The opportunity is good for benefactors, their heirs and, if executed correctly, society at large.

There is a greater good that can be served by passing down wealth to future generations, more so than the silly spendthrift ways exemplified in the movie "Arthur," where frivolity reigned.

There is just as much responsibility in handing down wealth as there is in inheriting it.

Benefactors ought to take note.

Copyright (c) 2007 MarketWatch, Inc.