Baby Boomers to Inherit Trillions

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Crane says the knowledge she might someday inherit had no influence on her. "I never viewed it as somehow owed to me, nor was there any guarantee I'd receive anything. I told my dad he ought to go through as much of his money as he could while he was still alive — he ought to enjoy it." In the end, she and her siblings wound up receiving about $150,000 each.

AgeWave's Baxter notes that while such amounts have the power to make the recipient's life a little nicer, they're not game-changing. "No panacea," calls them. Typically they won't be big enough to fund retirement or offer permanent financial security.

What might boomers do with their found money? Baxter thinks that while the generation so far has tended to spend money on trappings of the good life (whether they could afford them or not), it may behave differently in future. "I think we're moving into a time when boomers will be spending less on things and more on experiences. They're showing more appreciation for the importance of family and of relationships. I think in future years we'll see them spending, say, on vacations with their adult kids or with their grandchildren. "

Inheritances are Changing Lives

Inherited money is already changing lives. Leslie Leonard, 58, inherited when he was 55. The amount, he says, "was what I'd anticipated -- more or less. I wasn't bowled over, but neither was I disappointed." Thanks to the financial crisis, he now has less of it. "I got mine just in time to see it diminish," he says with a laugh.

Still, the money has allowed him to take time off, travel, buy art and generally "to fluff up the house." It's also made it possible for Leonard, a San Francisco real estate agent, to flirt with a new career: doing voice-over work. "What it does is this: you have options. That's what it gives you, and that's very nice."

Mary Crane eventually used her inheritance to make the down-payment on a small co-op apartment, which she treasures as her nest. Could she have afforded it without her inheritance? Yes, but getting the inheritance certainly helped.

Her comfy little home, she says, is a constant reminder of her parents. "At least once a month, at some moment when I'm most enjoying it, I thank mom and dad."

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