Great piece from Insider:
When my husband’s grandmother turned 87, our family realized it was time for us to take over her affairs. Grandma Sue was ailing and recently widowed, so we decided that it was best for her to turn over her finances. Between retirement savings and the proceeds from the sale of her house, she had about $250,000 in assets at the time. She told my husband that he would inherit all of it. On the face of it, Grandma Sue’s generosity seemed like it would be a huge financial help for our family since the money was just about enough to pay off our mortgage. But my husband wasn’t banking on a windfall.
Grandma Sue was able to cover the cost of assisted living with the income she was receiving from Social Security and the income on her savings. But after six years, she needed round-the-clock care and eventually was moved into a nursing home. The transition was tough and the nursing home wasn’t cheap, but it was necessary to keep her comfortable. Eventually, Grandma Sue dipped into her principal to keep up with the bills, and after eight years, she had gone through the majority of her assets. At that point, she qualified for Medicaid, which covered the cost of her care. But that left my husband’s inheritance at about $2,000, the maximum amount of assets you could have at the time to go on Medicaid.
We were happy that Grandma Sue had enough money to afford a good quality of life — she was able to get the kind of care she needed during her last years. That said, $2,000 is peanuts compared to the roughly $250,000 she had expected to pass on. Instead of paying off our mortgage, we used the money to replace our dining-room windows.
As the boomer generation hits their twilight years, the question of what will happen to their money has become a source of fascination and consternation for economists, estate planners, and families across the country. Boomers hold a massive amount of wealth: The 55.8 million Americans over 65, about 17% of the population, hold half of America’s wealth — $96.4 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve. The general assumption is that as this older generation dies, that money will trickle down to younger generations and give cash-strapped families a leg up. Consider it the Great Boomer Wealth Transfer — when their parents or grandparents die, millions of Gen Xers, millennials, and Gen Zers could receive a financial windfall that will help them catch up financially. But it isn’t that simple.
Death, they say, is the great equalizer. But even death can’t offset wealth inequality. Most of the money held by America’s older generations will get eaten up by long-term care and end-of-life costs, and what remains will mostly end up in the hands of other already-wealthy people. Instead of an inheritance boom, the reality is that most Americans will not receive a vast fortune to ameliorate their grief.