Study: Heirs in the dark on family wealth decisions

BANK OF AMERICA announced the findings of a recent study conducted by Merrill Lynch Wealth Management that found a majority of wealthy people don’t let their family members know about their plans to pass on their assets. / BLOOMBERG NEWS FILE PHOTO/RON ANTONELLI

PROVIDENCE – A new study found that 64% of “wealth holders” have never talked with family members about how or why they intend to pass on their assets.

The study, conducted by Bank of America Corp. subsidiary Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, also said 48% of wealth holders plan to eventually communicate such information or they assume family members already know.

In addition, 10% said they will never divulge details of their estate plan before they die, primarily because they consider it personal and no one else’s business.

The study queried 656 “high net worth and ultra-high net worth” adults with at least $3 million in investable assets, not including the value of their primary residence.

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“Decisions about family money have the potential to change lives, yet the outcome depends on how well the purpose and reasoning behind those decisions are understood, and too often that is left unsaid,” Stacy Allred, head of the Merrill Center for Family Wealth, said in an announcement. “Misunderstanding can lead to family conflicts, resentment and other unintended consequences, including the misuse or loss of family wealth.”

The study found that decisions about family money, such as gifts to family and charities, dividing assets among heirs and setting up trust provisions or limitations, ranked as the most important and hardest to make, compared to decisions about saving, investing, spending and other day-to-day finances.

“This research is designed to help families make better decisions and secure the promise of wealth, including the impact it can have within and beyond one’s family and lifetime,” said Merrill Lynch Wealth Management President Andy Sieg.

Scott Blake is a PBN staff writer. Email him at

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