personal finance

Half of UK parents plan to treat children unequally in their wills

Inheritance updates

Just over half of parents propose to split their wealth equally between their children when they die, with the rest planning to bequeath differing proportions, according to a poll of British families.

Their intentions will often come as a surprise to their offspring, since fewer than a quarter of young adults say they have had open discussions with their parents about their financial plans, says the survey published today.

The lack of financial understanding between the generations reflected in the findings “can have a significant impact on family financial planning, creating challenges over the short and long term,” say the authors of the Generation Game report.

The poll, by Censuswide for Netwealth, a wealth manager, covered 1,000 young adults aged 25-35 and 1,000 parents of young adults with at least £50,000 of investible assets, who are either planning or considering transferring wealth to their children.

The report warns that the “communications gap” between the generations grows over time, “with young adults lacking clarity around their parents’ plans for their wealth when they die and avoiding conversations on the topic”.

Worryingly, say the authors, 66 per cent of parents believe their offspring have a clear understanding of their legacy plans while just 39 per cent of young adults think they do. Only 23 per cent of the young people polled said they had discussed their parents’ financial plans openly with them.

The potential tensions are complicated since only 53 per cent of parents plan an equal split of their wealth, according to the study. Of those who propose an unequal division, 15 per cent said they had already given significant support to one child and a further 14 per cent said they wanted to give more to the children who needed more. Another 12 per cent stated that their children did not have equal numbers of their own children and they wished to provide equally for grandchildren.

Other motives also registered. Some 4 per cent said they did not want to support a particular child’s partner or wider family, and 7 per cent said they were estranged from one or more children.

“For parents who plan on splitting their wealth according to their children’s needs, having such conversations early on would enable them to explain their rationale . . . and enable all family members to plan their own finances accordingly,” said Charlotte Ransom, Netwealth chief executive.

To make matters worse, many parents overestimate their children’s financial capabilities: 76 per cent think their children are in control of their finances but only 52 per cent of young adults would agree.

Also, the study concludes that young adults tend to adopt their parents’ financial habits, so those committed to saving tend to bring up savers, while big spenders also generally pass on their approach. The report says this produces “mixed results”, because these cultural traditions can result in bad habits being prolonged in families.

Meanwhile, in a reminder of the importance of tax in inheritance planning, figures published this week show that the amount of UK inheritance tax (IHT) paid jumped 19 per cent, exceeding £6bn in a 12-month period for the first time. The sum collected by HM Revenue & Customs increased from £5.04bn to £6.01bn in the year to the end of August.

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and record-high property prices have meant that a larger than usual number of estates have become liable for IHT. Also, the government has failed to increase the tax-free allowance on inheritance in line with inflation, leaving it frozen at £325,000 since April 2009.

Mark Giddens, a partner at UHY Hacker Young, an accountancy group, said: “A tax that was originally supposed to affect only the super-rich is increasingly hitting middle England. As a result, families increasingly understand the importance of tax planning to ensure they can pass the fruits of their labour to their children.”


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