More diverse family structures mean hard choices when passing on wealth



Single parents are the most prepared to pass on their inheritance, RBC Wealth Management survey finds

  • One in five people come from non-nuclear families, including blended and single-parent
  • 38% of single-parent families have a full wealth transfer plan in place
  • 26% of nuclear families have a full wealth transfer plan in place
  • Only 24% of blended families have a full plan, making them the least prepared

MINNEAPOLIS – June 13, 2017 – As family structures in the U.S. grow increasingly diverse, the level of complexity they face when it comes to financial matters is also on the rise.

That complexity and how families manage it will have a large and lasting impact on the estimated $3.2 trillion in wealth expected to change hands in the U.S. over the next generation, according to new global research of high net worth and ultra-high net worth individuals by RBC Wealth Management, conducted in collaboration with Scorpio Partnership.

“Society’s diversity is reflected in the diverse family configurations we see today,” said Angie O’Leary, head of wealth planning at RBC Wealth Management-U.S. “It can be extraordinarily difficult to plan for the next week much less for something that won’t happen for years to come, but for families with complex structures, it’s all the more important to begin the process sooner than later.”

The report found that blended families are the least prepared to transfer wealth, yet have the greatest need because of their complex family structures.  Only 24 percent of blended families have a full plan, and 37 percent have done nothing to prepare.

Nuclear families, defined in the study as two people, either heterosexual or same-sex, married with children, are only marginally better prepared than many blended families, with most having only made the basic arrangements.  While 56 percent of nuclear families surveyed have drafted a will, only a small number (26 percent) have a full wealth transfer plan, and 29 percent have not made any plans.

Single-parent families, meanwhile, are the most prepared for wealth transfer and more confident regarding financial matters, with 38 percent indicating they have a wealth transfer plan in place, according to RBC’s research.

“Single-parents may have little choice to take the lead, but their hands-on approach still sets them apart from other family structures,” said O’Leary. “All families should start thinking about the security of family assets early, and review their plans regularly.  The right preparation enables inheritors to better evaluate their financial options, reducing the risk of wasteful decisions and misspent inheritances.”

For many, talking about money, even with children, is extremely uncomfortable. But single parents are bucking that trend, with 49 percent indicating they are comfortable sharing all the details with their children, compared with only 40 percent of nuclear families and 34 percent of blended families.

Just over half of nuclear families, or 51 percent, rely on family members to guide the next generation on wealth matters, while 30 percent rely on private bankers or financial advisors for more structured financial learning. By contrast, 64 percent of single parents indicated that structured financial education was effective in building their financial knowledge, recognizing the benefits of supplementing informal learning with more formal education.

“Families need preparation and training—otherwise the younger inheritors become afraid to use the money. But if they receive the right education, they should feel confident to be actively involved,” said O’Leary.

A sizable majority of blended families (73 percent) intend to share family assets equally among all their beneficiaries, including biological children, step-children and adopted children.  Because they plan to share equally, only 15 percent anticipate conflict among inheritors.

Other key findings from the report include:

  • The majority of blended families surveyed (56 percent) intend to pass on their entire legacy to the next generation only upon illness or death, with only 31 percent intending to start gifting some of their wealth to inheritors gradually during their lifetimes.
  • When asked to assess their confidence in their financial knowledge, single parents rate themselves an average of 6.7 out of 10, the highest of any family type surveyed.
  • When asked which financial topics are most important to teach the next generation, most families said budgeting, while placing less emphasis on investment strategy and portfolio management.

The research of high net worth and ultra-high net worth individuals – undertaken from June to August 2016 – includes responses from 1,770 nuclear families, 219 single parents, and 274 blended families from the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

In January 2017, RBC Wealth Management released the 2017 Wealth Transfer Report, Lasting Legacy, which focused on wealth transfer trends in the U.S., Canada and the UK. In addition to the Lasting Legacy and Family reports, RBC has released three additional research papers in spring 2017, which delved further into the challenges and opportunities women, business owners, and millennials face when it comes to inheritance. The full details of the report, and a survey which allows Americans to compare their answers to the findings, is available on

About RBC Wealth Management – U.S.

In the United States, RBC Wealth Management operates as a division of RBC Capital Markets, LLC. Founded in 1909, RBC Capital Markets, LLC. is a member of the New York Stock Exchange, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the Securities Investor Protection Corporation, and other major securities exchanges.  RBC Wealth Management has $294 billion in total client assets with 1,800 financial advisors operating in 200 locations in 41 states. 


Nicole Garrison, 612-371-2999,, or
Jonell Lundquist, 612-371-2239,