'Small few' inherit most wealth

CashThree-quarters of assets recently left in wills has gone to just one fifth of Britons who received an inheritance, according to an official report.

The Office for National Statistics' findings that only a "small few" are inheriting most of the wealth passed down the generations comes amid warnings that relying on hopes of a windfall is a "risky" strategy as the population faces increasing costs to pay for its old age.

An estimated £75 billion worth of assets including cash, property and jewellery was handed down in Britain over the two years between 2008 and 2010, according to the ONS.

But its report said that "the inheritances received by a small few had a disproportionately higher value than the majority".

It said three-quarters (76%) of assets inherited over the two-year period, equating to £57 billion, went to just one fifth of people who had received an inheritance.

People receiving an inheritance were more likely to live in a wealthier household, have a management-level job, be self-employed, own their own home outright and have a university-educated father, the ONS said.

Women have a better chance of inheriting than men, which is likely to be because they tend to out-live men. The likelihood of receiving an inheritance is also lower for people who are not of white British ethnicity, the report said.

One in 27 (3.6%) people, or 1.6 million adults, received an inheritance worth at least £1,000 between 2008-10, the ONS's Inheritance in Great Britain report said. H alf of inheritors received less than £10,000 and one in 10 received £125,000 or more.

Almost half of windfalls (47%) came from a parent or a parent-in-law, while just over one fifth (23%) were passed down by grandparents. Just over one in 10 (11%) came from an uncle or an aunt and one in 20 (5%) inheritors received assets from a friend or a neighbour.

Looking at how inheritances could change in the coming years, the report pointed out that the proportion of people owning their own homes rather than renting has been rising over the decades and peaked at seven in 10 (69%) in 2001.

It said: "This rise should increase the number of inheritances as more individuals possess a tangible asset to leave to others."

But future generations expecting a windfall are also likely to see the size of their inheritance pots eroded by the costs of caring for an ageing population.

The report said: "There are significant costs associated with living longer, whether to maintain a reasonable standard of living, or to pay for care bills...

"Such expenses are likely to diminish, if not exhaust assets which might traditionally have been passed on to others."

The findings come at a time when the Government is trying to encourage more people to save for their later years by automatically enrolling people into workplace pensions.

Danny Cox, head of financial planning at financial services firm Hargreaves Lansdown said the report shows that relying on an inheritance is a "risky strategy".

He said: "In an ideal world you should always have your own financial plans in place so that if any windfalls come along the way they will help but you are not relying on them."

Nearly nine in 10 (88%) inheritances over the 2008-10 period included money and around one fifth (19%) involved property or land. Around 12% of windfalls included personal possessions such as jewellery and 6% involved stocks and shares, the ONS found.

People who had received a windfall of over £10,000 were twice as likely as those who had received no inheritance to say their general financial situation had taken a turn for the better over the last couple of years.

Around half of people who received property went on to sell it, while the second most common action was to live in it.

Three-fifths (61%) of those who inherited money or personal items saved some or all of it, while one in seven (16%) used it to pay down debts.

The inheritance tax threshold, up to which point there is no tax to pay on someone's estate, is set at up to £325,000. If an inheritance goes over the limit, then tax at 40% has to be paid on the amount over the "nil rate" band. If at least 10% of the estate is left to charity, the amount over the threshold which the taxman can claim drops from 40% to 36%.