The last message from the deceased. A good cushion for future expenses or a post-mortem gift that mitigates a loss. Heirlooms have traditionally been understood this way, but this concept could change. In fact, it may already be happening without us realizing it. Even if in our society a predominance of familiarist sociological profilewhere it is established that parents’ assets must be passed on to their children without conditions or distinctions, a new individualistic approach has already appeared, where half of Spaniards (57%) exclude the need to save to leave a significant income. inheritance to his children.

This is detailed in the project “Legacy in the digital society”. Family management of intergenerational transfers and wealth in 21st century Spain”, a study financed by the Leonardo grant from the BBVA Foundation and pioneering in proposing a sociological perspective on the inheritance systems of Spanish society.

To approach this analysis, four focus groups were organized in the Basque Country, Madrid, Catalonia and Galicia, where in-depth interviews were carried out with more than a thousand people. “This is the first time that we have quantitative data on the management of inheritance thanks to a national survey carried out among 1,127 people over 60,” explains Luis Ayuso, professor of sociology at the University of Malaga.

The decision to opt for this age group was based on the deduction that these are people who have a “greater probability” of having received an inheritance, of being able to envisage its management, as well as defining what they will do with their inheritance. Its aim was to shed light on the mentality of the testators, by questioning and analyzing aspects that are not traditionally talked about when it comes to money and death.

Over the years and the evolution from a traditional society to a modern and currently digital society, individualism has increased. Ayuso indicates that a gradual process of “nuclearization of the family”, where inheritances tend to revolve around the spouse and children, “unlike in the past, where brothers, nephews or grandchildren were more present”. Indeed, 88% think that inheritance should be reserved only for children and two in five believe that they must demonstrate that they deserve it, because blood ties are not the only useful ones.

Little by little, the heirs “disappeared”, which made the testators think more deeply about what they should do with their money and whether it was worth “suffering in life” so that descendants can live better off.

In addition, increasing life expectancy – Spain is the first country in Europe – means that citizens may have to pay for additional welfare needs. “Ultimately, we aim for inheritance-related expenses to be borne by the testators and not the heirs, which is why saving is more an individualistic issue than a communal one,” says Ayuso.

A model similar to that of Northern Europe

Among those surveyed who chose not to leave an inheritance, younger generations with higher levels of education predominated, much like what is already happening in central and northern European countries. “It is very likely that its inheritance model will be established in Spain in the years to come,” predicts the sociologist, who explains that we are moving towards a social framework where individualistic values ​​will predominate.

“Our goal is to ensure that the inheritance goes to the testators and not to the heirs”

Luis Ayuso

Professor of sociology at the University of Malaga

For now, our country is held together by its “family structure” and when this changes, there will be no going back. “It will be weakened by the reduction in the number of brothers and sisters and, above all, by the reduction in the number of children, which will result in subsequent generations having a poorer support network. “This is an issue we will need to address in the future.”

The transition to living legacies

Another issue on which there was practically no prior information is the opinion of the Spanish on the possibility of leaving inheritances during their lifetime or waiting until their death. The research explains that it is on this issue that there is significant disagreement and diverse opinions. Spanish society is mostly in favor of giving nothing until death (42%), although there is a group in favor of giving the entire inheritance during one’s lifetime (24%), only a part (19%) or in the event of death. unexpected situations (10%). “When the inheritance is given during one’s lifetime, more than half argue that it is to support the children in their emancipation, for direct financial assistance or even to help the grandchildren,” explains the sociologist.

However, among those surveyed, 40% – including the less educated and older generations – have become more reluctant to distribute over their lifetime. “They are the ones who have had the most difficulty amassing a small amount of wealth, they are more aware of what it costs to earn money and that is why it is more difficult for them to distribute it during their lifetime,” explains Ayuso . Those with the greatest capital also deny it, because they are aware that the distribution of their income “could cause family conflicts”.

Willpower is taboo

In the work they point out that 40% of Spaniards have never spoken to their children about the will and have not even written a will on the distribution of the inheritance. “There is little intra-family communication on the subject because it intertwines two issues that we like to talk about, like money and death.” The issues highlighted by the researcher will evolve in the future over generations.