Paul Schervish

Watch Free Webinar on the Great Wealth Transfer


Check out this free webinar on the Great Wealth Transfer!  (NOTE: the first minute or two didn’t get recorded but it picks up on the first slide)

If you have any interest in receiving a copy of the actual powerpoint (with slide data accessible) please email me at

Also, don’t forget to check out our summer planned giving training programs!

The Planned Giving Boot Camp (starts July 12th)

Beyond the Planned Giving Boot Camp (part II of the Boot Camp) (starts July 20th)

Thank you as always for checking out our programs!






Great Wealth Transfer Is Back?

I am going to admit that throwing around the idea of Trillions of dollars in Wealth Transfer going to Nonprofits over the next 46 years actually makes my brain a little tired. Actually, just seeing an email from Paul Schervish this week got me a bit sleepy.

Want to read the latest Wealth Transfer predictions from Boston College and Mr. Schervish, here you go:

How about the headline?

New Report Predicts U.S. Wealth Transfer of $59Trillion, With $6.3 Trillion in Charitable Bequests, from 2007-2061
Additional Lifetime Giving of $20.6 Trillion, Say Boston College Researchers

How about the highlights?

  • Through estates, heirs will receive $36 trillion.
  • Federal estate taxes will claim $5.6 trillion.
  • The sum directed from final estates (for which there is no surviving spouse) toward charity is estimated at $6.3 trillion.
  • Total gifts to charity during the study period are vastly greater, according to the study, which estimates that lifetime giving will yield an additional $20.6 trillion for charity from 2007-2061

I know it sounds like a lot of money for nonprofits, through Planned Giving no less, but it still gets me weary looking at this stuff.

What do you think?

Wealth Transfer Discussion Continued…

I suspect very few people actually see the comments on my blog posts – due to the style of blog.  Here is one comment worth re-posting: Paul Schervish’s response to my rather biting commentary on his work earlier this week – along with my own mea culpa!  I try to entertain, expose, and educate through my posts but there are times in which the “uncensored” part of the blog unintentionally or unfairly hurts others.  For that I apologize to Professor Schervish!  Of course, he still has to back up his work and as you will note at the end of Paul’s response below, he is coming out with new estimates – which we should all be looking forward to seeing!

Response from Paul Schervish, Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College.
Jonathan has stumbled upon old news-say almost 8 years ago. There was a story in Chronicle on Philanthropy and our response by e-newsletter We discovered this problem and were in midst of writing an explanation when the Chronicle article came out. Turns out that the wealth transfer predicted for 1998 through 2017 is coming true and more than coming true (heirs alone will receive the $13 trillion we predicted for heirs, taxes, bequests, and settlement costs together! So wealth transfer is exceeding our middle 2% estimate. And charitable giving, especially during lifetime also increased until the Great Recession. What isn’t happening is the measured distribution to charitable bequests.

However, from that time forward, we readily stated in talks and in responses to queries that charitable bequests are not occurring as the model predicted. We knew that and what Jonathan writes as expose is, as I said, old news. To predict bequests we took each wealth group from the middle to late 1990s and then modeled the level of bequests for each wealth level (see Russell’s first chart). What happened is what Warren Buffett did: began to transfer to foundations and direct charitable giving what he planned to leave as charitable bequests in his estate. The data shows that in the 2000s there was great increase in foundation formation, donor advised funds, and lifetime giving (see Russell’s second chart). Our concern about the 2000-2001 NASDQ drop, recession, and 911 that we cite in our newsletter, it turns out was not as telling as what we discovered later about foundation formation and contributions to foundation.

People who were financially secure changed behavior from the 1990s and started and filled foundations with the money liquidated from the entrepreneurial growth, sale of firms, and public offerings. Until the around 1999 the amount going to bequests each year was about the same amount going to foundations (Russell has incline in charitable bequests correct for 1990s). After that date foundation growth skyrocketed and not as much was left in estates for charitable bequests—even though on average gifts to foundations or DAFS is still the major destination for charitable bequests). Simply change in behavior. In fairness to Jonathan and Russell, we have presented this information at conferences but have not published this finding.

Still, a courtesy would have been for both Jonathan and Russell to contact us for an explanation before questioning our work with an outdated criticism. We could have provided the answer about bequests, namely, as I said, foundation formation and distribution of assets to foundations and DAFS as well as life-time giving which is now deemed substantially greater in the post-recession by some reports than the amount of individual giving provided by GUSA. This would have made for a more informed and helpful blog.

But we do make allowances for this in our soon to be released wealth transfer model. The new model takes into account the question “where have the bequests gone?”

(As an aside, let’s think about all the billionaires (both who have and have not made the giving pledge), not to mention hecta-millionaires, who are yet to settle their estates before the 2052 deadline approaches.)

As to the possibility of charitable bequests being put more on the map, Legacy Leaders’ Chris Heldman ( has argued and shown that bequests are still low hanging fruit and charitable organizations do not have or commit the resources to do large scale bequest requests except from their top prospects. Obtaining committed charitable bequests for charities is something for which Legacy Leaders has a talent, method, and proven track record demonstrated by its bequest accomplishments for major charities around the US and Canada (see insightful comment by Michael Rosen).

Finally, back when Robert Sharpe served with John Havens and me on the methodology advisory board for GUSA, Sharpe provided an answer to part of the discrepancy. He sought to persuade the methodology advisory group that smaller bequests by lower wealth individuals not captured in IRS data led to a value of bequests approximately double ($35-40 billion) the approximately $20 billion reported by GUSA.

A new Wealth Transfer Model with new and updated data, modules, and estimate will be published soon. This new model takes into account giving to foundations and other lifetime giving, and provides a lower estimate of charitable bequests. We always said that behavior on the part of charities could prove our estimates false in obtaining more or less lifetime giving and charitable bequests than we predicted.

We would be grateful if Jonathan could offer us a space to summarize the new wealth transfer model estimates after we announce findings from the forthcoming updated and improved wealth transfer study.

Of course, I will post on the new model!

Planned Giving Fortune Telling – Rates of Childlessness

This post is a follow-up to last week’s  discussion on the Schervish/Havens “Wealth Transfer” projections from the late 90s (and re-estimated around 2006).  Good news is that we should have a new set of projections – ones that should be real eye openers for the need to invest in planned giving!

Even with updated “Wealth Transfer” projections on the horizen, there are still some facts already glaring at the nonprofit sector right between the eyes.  Fact: there are a lot of baby boomers and they are rapidly approaching planned giving revenue status.  In other words, this cohort will start passing away in terms of numbers that it’s inevitable that planned giving numbers will skyrocket.  In some sense, it’s a numbers game – the numbers are on the side of planned giving as boomers start reaching their 70s in a few years.

But, of course, there are so many other factors that could impact charitable estates and other planned gifts: retirement savings, longer lives, health care costs, inflation, spending habits, caring for elderly parents, divorce rates, ethnicity, etc…  In fact, it seems practically impossible to accurately predict what will be with planned giving in the future (except, of course, for the BC folks).

Now to the main point of this post and the message to think about.  The impact of childlessness on charitable bequests is well documented – I recall somewhere in the numerous reports I’ve read over the years that those without children left around 7 times more dollars in their charitable bequests (still searching for that source!) than those with children.

Professor Russell James, of course, has given us some very interesting looks at this issue.  Take a look at this slide and let my commentary take you through it.

U.S. Pop Age 55+ Charitable Estates by Family Status

This slide comes from Professor James’ research on planned giving habits based on data from a large health and retirement study conducted over 15+ more years.  It shows us the percentages (among those who actually have wills or trusts) that include charity in their estates – broken down by four key categories.  Those with grandchildren (less than 10% of this groups leave charitable plans), those with just children (less than 15% with charitable plans), and then those without children (either married or unmarried).

The conclusion is clear from the slide: childlessness is a huge factor for inclusion of charity in estate plans.

That is what the past data is telling us – not surprisingly.

What about going forward?  What are some of the big differences between the soon to be retiring generation of baby boomers vs. their predecessors?

Well, you could have guessed it – childlessness is a huge differential between the two generations.  Women in the boomer generation pursued more careers and more successfully.  Got married later, if at all.  Higher divorce rate, too.   Here is one more interesting slide from Dr. James:

U.S. Childless Women Ages 40 to 44This is a really cool slide which takes a little explaining.  It just looks at women between ages 40 and 44 at yearly intervals and their rate of childlessness.  Women who were in this age range in the 1970s until the early 1980s generally had a rate of less than 11% childlessness. This group happens to be in their 70s and older right now.

But, as the red line enters into baby boomer territory, starting around 1984, we start seeing a huge uptick in childlessness rates.  In other words, not only are there more women about to enter their 70s due to the baby boom, but the percentage of those who never had children more than doubles.

Get the message?  The numbers of women in their 60s is already much greater than the pre-boomer population in their 70s.  But, add in this factor of childlessness among this group, it seems incredibly obvious that nonprofits need to adjust and of course, invest in their planned giving programs!