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Coining Legacy Estate Planning Research

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Coining a legacy: How Americans plan to leave their mark


A third of Americans (32%) plan to leave an inheritance, even if it’s small, according to Empower research.* Meanwhile, 24% say they’re just trying to get by and not thinking about their financial legacy – particularly true for older Millennials and Gen X (30%).

At a macro level, legacy planning is a very present and real consideration for many: During the current wealth transfer, Baby Boomers are expected to pass on an estimated $90 trillion to heirs and charities.

Federal Reserve data shows that on average American households inherit $58,000, a figure which tends to be skewed by the wealthiest,1 and only 1 in 5 U.S. households have received an inheritance at some point.2 Still, a third (35%) of people feel that “estate planning is for rich people. It’s not for me.”

But a legacy isn’t confined to financial assets; 16% say it’s also about sharing money lessons and wisdom with younger generations, a view more commonly held by those aged 18 to 34 (23%) than for people 55 and older (9%), signaling an increasing value on financial literacy and money talks.

Let’s unpack legacy planning

Three in 10 Americans (29%) define financial success as being able to leave an inheritance. The desire to pass down generational wealth is particularly strong among Gen Z and younger Millennials (44%) versus older Millennials and Gen X (29%) and the 55-plus crowd (19%) – indicating a growing cultural interest in creating a financial legacy.

But “legacy” means something different to everyone.

For 36% of Americans, “leaving a legacy” means paying for their own end-of-life expenses so that they don’t leave any financial burdens to their family. This is most prioritized by those entering their golden years (40% of those 55 and older).

Meanwhile, 26% consider their financial legacy to be passing down and protecting their assets for the people they choose. For some 15% of Gen Z and younger Millennials (and 10% of people overall), charitable giving is top-of-mind.

A small selection of the population doesn’t plan to leave any inheritance at all (12%) or isn’t sure how they’d impart a financial legacy (14%).

Impact of passing down assets

On the other side of the coin, receiving an inheritance can be a life-altering financial event . However, there’s a generational divide in how people anticipate getting and using inherited funds.

On average, 44% of Americans haven’t received an inheritance and don’t plan to receive one. Conversely, just 14% say they’re counting on an inheritance, most commonly among Gen Z and younger Millennials (27%); an inheritance windfall is less expected by those ages 35 to 54 (11%) and people 55 and older (7%). Inheritances are most likely to hit when people are in their 50s.2

For many people, it’s advisable not to depend on an inheritance for financial security and instead focus on building wealth through thoughtful financial planning and long-term investing.

But that doesn’t mean a windfall wouldn’t come in handy.

Younger generations have or would use an inheritance to help them buy a home or pay off their mortgage – a widespread challenge, given both the current competitive housing market and elevated interest rates.

On the other hand, middle aged and older Americans have or would prioritize paying off debt. Indeed, debt is common: Empower research shows 54% of Americans carry debt, with the burden most prevalent among Gen X (72%).


How Americans would spend an inheritance 




Put it toward buying or paying off a home 


Pay off credit card or personal debt 


Buy something extravagant  

18-34  37%  33% 31%
35-54  22% 24% 20%
55+  12% 18%  12%

Survey question asked how likely respondents are to say they have used or will use an inheritance; percentages include those who “strongly agree” and “agree.”


Who needs an estate plan?

Estate plans vary hugely depending on a person’s goals, finances, family situation, and location. In simple terms, an estate plan is just a collection of documents that define a person’s end-of-life and legacy wishes.

Most people with financial assets or children should execute a will, and some may want to establish a trust. It’s also wise to set a power of attorney: assigning a trusted person legal rights to complete tasks like depositing checks at the bank, making final health decisions, filing taxes, or selling a home.

Planning for these wide-ranging considerations can support peace of mind – though only 30% are doing so with a professional. Younger generations are most likely to make preparations, with 41% of Gen Z and younger Millennials either having worked with an estate professional or planning on it. Meanwhile, just 25% of both middle-aged people (35-54) and older Americans (55 and over) intend to work with an expert.

Ultimately, estate planning is highly individual; a professional can act as a guide in creating plans to pass down a lasting legacy – however defined by each unique person.

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