View all news

'SKIers' and 'OWLS'

Press release issued: 19 July 2005

Two out of three adults say they plan to enjoy life and not worry too much about leaving a legacy, according to the first-ever national survey of attitudes to inheritance carried out by researchers at the Universities of Bristol and Bath.

- Britons' attitudes to inheritance -

Two out of three adults say they plan to enjoy life and not worry too much about leaving a legacy, according to the first-ever national survey of attitudes to inheritance carried out for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation by researchers at the Universities of Bristol and Bath.

Stephen McKay of Bristol University's Personal Finance Research Centre and Dr  Karen Rowlingson of Bath University found that a majority reject the idea that older people ought to be careful with their money so they can bequeath something when they die.  Little more than a quarter of those with the potential to make a bequest say they will deliberately budget to do so.

The study also reveals widespread misunderstanding about liability for inheritance tax.  Although the tax was highly unpopular, only a small minority of those surveyed knew it had been levied on just 6 per cent of estates during the previous year.

The study, based on interviews with a representative national sample of 2,000 adults found that:

· Almost half (46 per cent) had inherited something, but most of the sums involved were small.  The 5 per cent who had inherited £50,000 or more were for the most part already affluent.

· The most common source of inheritance was parents (39 per cent), followed by grandparents (31 per cent).  White owner-occupiers from the professional classes were the most likely to receive a bequest, especially one of much value.

· More than half those interviewed thought it unlikely they would inherit any property.  But 14 per cent expected to do so and another 14 per cent thought it likely.  Younger people with home-owning parents had the greatest expectations of an inheritance.

· While the vast majority (85 per cent) said they would like to be able to leave a legacy, half strongly agreed that older people should 'enjoy their retirement and not worry about leaving an inheritance'.  Another 38 per cent tended to agree.

· Nine out of ten people reported having the potential for them to leave a bequest.  Most of them thought it was very important (15 per cent) or fairly important (50 per cent) to leave an inheritance.  Yet 67 per cent agreed they would 'enjoy life and not worry about bequests' compared with 28 per cent who accepted they would 'be careful with money to leave bequests'.

· People in their 50s were least convinced of the need to budget for inheritance. However, even among people over 80, a majority (54 per cent) thought it more important to enjoy life than worry about leaving a legacy.

· There was more support among men (21 per cent) than women (16 per cent) for the view that older people should budget in order to bequeath. But Black (35 per cent) and Asian (52 per cent) people were much more likely to agree with this than White interviewees (16 per cent).

Stephen McKay said: "This first-ever survey of attitudes to inheritance in Britain suggests that although most people would like to be able to make bequests when they die, they are also willing to use up their savings and housing equity if they need the money to maintain a reasonable standard of living.

"It does not support the stereotype of older people being excessively frugal in order to bequeath everything to their children.  Not does it endorse the more recent image of them irresponsibly spending their family assets on luxuries - otherwise known as SKIers, as in 'Spending the Kids Inheritance'. Instead it highlights people's willingness to draw down assets in the normal course of managing resources during their lifetime.

"Instead of speculating about SKIers, it is time we started recognising that most older people manage their assets in a balanced way. Based on the evidence in this survey we could think of them as wise OWLS - 'Older people Withdrawing Loot Sensibly'!"

Accessing housing equity

The researchers also examined attitudes to releasing the equity tied up in property.  One in four current or former owner-occupiers had accessed equity at some stage, most commonly by borrowing against the value of their property, or 'trading down' for a smaller, less expensive home.  The main reasons given for releasing equity were home repairs and improvements, paying bills or debts and buying essential items.  There were few examples of people releasing equity to pay for non-essential luxuries.

Inheritance law and tax

Less than half the adults interviewed (45 per cent) had made a will, rising to 84 per cent among those aged over 80.  People owning homes and other assets were more likely to have made a will, but around one in four owner-occupiers had not yet done so.

Knowledge regarding inheritance law and taxation was generally poor. Only one in a hundred interviewees were able to answer a series of questions about the tax and payment liabilities correctly.

Over half did not know that although there is no inheritance tax on bequests from married partners to their spouse, the exemption does not apply to cohabiting couples.  Just 6 per cent knew that the proportion of bequests on which inheritance tax is paid was as low as one in 17 - with the vast majority either admitting they did not know or guessing it was between a quarter and half.  Only 19 per cent knew even approximately how much tax would be due on an estate of £300,000 left by a widow to her children.

Attitudes to inheritance in Britain by Karen Rowlingson and Stephen McKay is published for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation by The Policy Press and can be purchased online at or from Marston Book Services, PO Box 269, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4YN price £15.95 plus £2.75 p&p.

The report and a summary of findings can be downloaded, free of charge, from

The survey interviews for this study were carried out by MORI in 60 selected wards across Britain between July and October 2004.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation is a charity spending £9 million a year on research and policy development work that seeks to understand the underlying causes of social problems and explore ways of overcoming them.

Edit this page