The winner takes it all, including financial anxiety. That might be the case for the younger generations who are posed to benefit from the incoming historic Great Wealth Transfer.
Boomers, who account for half of the wealth in the U.S., are expected to distribute an expected $72 trillion to their offspring. While that includes some Gen Xers and Gen Zers, the Great Recession-afflicted millennials are likely to be the biggest winners of this reallocation, as they’re the typical children of boomers and have climbed one economic hurdle after another. The transfer is set to make them five times richer in 2030 than they were approaching the beginning of the decade. But many of those expecting an inheritance feel they’re not ready to manage their unprecedented slice of the pie and that it won’t be as valuable in today’s economy.
While 15% of U.S. adults expect to receive an inheritance, only 42% of those “feel very comfortable financially handling the new wealth,” finds a new report from New York Life. Millennials and Gen Zers feel the least confident, at 21% and 18%, respectively. And women are almost twice as less likely than men to feel comfortable with their impending inheritance.
“Millennials, and now Gen Z, have grown up amidst global and financial turmoil,” Suzanne Schmitt, Head of Financial Wellness at New York Life, tells Fortune, pointing to the financial crisis of 2008 and the pandemic hardships. “These two cohorts have witnessed economic changes in their formative years and may be more risk-averse when it comes to financial habits than their predecessors.”
Still though, they’re expecting to receive the largest inheritance of any generation, the report finds. Across all generations, the average recipient says they’re expecting to receive $738,724. But more than half (58%) of adults who expect an inheritance worry inflation—even though it's cooled—will lessen its value. “Inflation has impacted everyone, and those passing down or receiving inheritances are no exception,” Schmitt says.
Nonetheless, that kind of sum can dramatically change people’s lives—especially for the generation that sorely needs assistance to get by. Having graduated into the rocky job market of the Great Recession and its aftermath while juggling massive student debt and a rising cost of living, millennials have been on a long journey toward financial stability in which they can afford milestones like buying a house. While they’ve recently made strides in building wealth, the Great Wealth Transfer was something experts predicted for years that would help propel millennials on the right financial track. But between inflationary impacts and anxiety over managing such a vast sum, it could pose more problems for millennials than they anticipate—not to mention that the money doesn’t stretch as far as it used to.
They may also not receive as much money as they’re expecting. A separate survey from Alliant Credit Union found that 53% of millennials expect to inherit at least $350,000 from their parents, but 55% of boomers report that they’re planning to gift an inheritance of less than $250,000.
Gen Zers’ and millennials’ qualms around their potential inheritance falls in line with their attitude towards their finances; Schmitt points out that they both feel more anxious about their current finances than older generations—a feeling that could worsen as they age. “We expect financial anxiety among younger generations to rise, as many haven’t yet experienced the personal effects of having older loved ones turn to them [for] caregiving support,” she adds.
As they get older they'll likely have more time to deal with their anxiety, but the Great Wealth Transfer is more a hare than a tortoise. “Although Gen Zers and Millennials may have time on their side to work on their own longer-term financial goals like saving for retirement, preparing to receive an inheritance is more urgent,” Schmitt says.