Early inheritance: How much money should you give away now?

early inherence

Some people plan to give money to beneficiaries (typically children and/or charities i.e., early inheritance) before they pass away, especially if they consider they have more than enough money i.e., surplus wealth. Often, their thesis is that their kids can make good use of the money now, whilst they are younger, rather than waiting another couple of decades. By that time, they’ll probably already be financially established.

I discuss what you must consider before making an early inheritance.

Inheritance tsunami

I’ve stated before that the amount of inheritance (mainly from the baby boomer generation) that is likely to be passed on will increase fourfold over the next three decades. Approximately, $3.5 trillion will be bequeathed over the next decade to reach $224 billion per year by 2050! That’s huge.

However, according to ANZ Private Bank’s research, approximately 70% of intergenerational wealth transfers fail because of family conflicts and other problems. The best way to avoid many of these problems is to gift wealth prior to death.

Inheritances are often received too late in life

Typically, by the time both parents have passed away, most people are already (financially) well established. They have worked hard to pay for the costs of raising a family, repaying a home loan, investing in super and other assets. Receiving an inheritance will only make an already strong financial position, even stronger.

Arguably, and putting aside that I think a bit of ‘financial struggle’ is beneficial and necessary, it would be more useful for people to receive inheritance earlier in life. It would help them upgrade their home sooner (and maybe get into a good public-school zone) and invest sooner, thereby benefiting from compounding capital growth.

It’s possible that future generations could continue to benefit from early inheritance if your children agree to repeating the practice. That is; I’m going to give you an early inheritance on the understanding that you will make smart financial decisions, which hopefully puts you in the position of being able to do the same for your children. Of course, nothing is guaranteed especially when gifting monies.

Avoiding family disputes

Most family disputes can be avoided with clear, regular and forthright communication. If all beneficiaries know what their entitlements will be (when you die), a dispute is less likely. However, the best way to avoid disputes is to gift monies whilst you are alive – as you can manage relationships and ensure people are treated fairly. This is a big advantage that results from making an early inheritance. 

What if they waste the money?

Once you gift monies, you relinquish control over what the recipient does with them. Sometimes, donors worry that recipients may “waste” the money they receive on frivolous items.  

However, in my decades of experience, I have found that recipients treat inherited monies often with more care, diligence and respect than they do their own money. I haven’t (yet) come across a situation where someone has “wasted” an early inheritance. Admittedly, all my clients are responsible with money. 

Of course, it makes sense to consider whether a recipient is likely to make smart financial decisions. If they have a long history of doing so, then it’s likely your gift will be in good hands.

How to work out how much to gift and when

The main risk with making an early inheritance is that you give too much away and compromise your own ability to fund your retirement.

The best way to mitigate that risk is to prepare financial projections and be conservative with your assumptions regarding (1) future investment returns and (2) how much you spend each year (living expenses).

For example, I can work out how much wealth you need assuming long-term investment returns of say only 4% p.a. and over-estimate your living expenses. Any wealth more than that amount (after including a buffer for unexpected expenses) could then be considered surplus, and therefore available to fund early inheritance. The more risk adverse you are, the more conservative with your assumptions you should be.

As an advisor, the more warning I have about a clients’ plans to gift an early inheritance, the better I can adjust asset allocations gradually over time to safely fund the gift. My aim is to avoid selling investments at a time when its uneconomical to do so e.g., when market values are depressed.

Asset protection considerations

You must be mindful of potential asset protection risks. If you gift monies to your children and they subsequently experience a (marital/de-facto) relationship breakdown, it is very likely the gifted monies will be included in the relationship asset pool. As such, your child’s spouse/partner may be entitled to a share of those monies.

Structuring early inheritance as a bona fide loan can help you protect the family’s wealth from a relationship breakdown. In that regard, it is important that recipients understand that the money is a loan, not a gift, and may need to be repaid in the future. It’s also important that the loan is documented correctly (loan agreement), including potentially holding security (e.g., caveat over your child’s property).

Of course, there’s lots of risks in life and you can’t manage all of them. That includes controlling monies after you have gifted them. So, you might not worry about this potential risk.

Making charitable gifts

A deductible gift recipient (DGR) is an organisation that can receive donations that are tax deductible. If you plan to gift monies to a DGR, it can create tax and financial planning opportunities. For example, we might purposely crystalise capital gains liabilities in the same financial year if we know that you will have a tax deduction to offset the tax liability. This can allow us to rebalance a portfolio tax-effectively.

Gradually transfer of control of some wealth

If you believe that you will have a substantial estate to pass onto your beneficiaries, your family may benefit from gaining experience with managing monies before you pass on. This can be achieved by having wealth in entities such as companies and trusts which you oversee together with your beneficiaries. In the beginning, your beneficiaries might enjoy the income that this pool of wealth generates, (for example) but have no entitlement to (or control over) the capital. As you get older, you might decide to hand full control over the entity/portfolio onto your beneficiaries.

Include an offset clause in your will

It is possible that you might make early inheritance at different times. If it is your intention that all beneficiaries should be treated equally, then it is critical that your will contains an offset clause. This allows your executor to consider any monies that have been gifted whilst you were alive, so that all beneficiaries ultimately enjoy an equal share of your estate. In this regard, it is important that you maintain a list of gifts made and share this with your executor.

You can’t take it with you!

You can’t take money with you when you die, so your goal should be to enjoy your wealth as much as possible whilst you are alive. That enjoyment can include spending it yourself (on things like travel) and gifting it to family members and charities.

Whatever you do, make sure you have a plan, so you never compromise your own retirement.