Baby Boomers' Coming Quandary: Big Bucks

WHEN he was a 22-year-old graduate student at the University of Oregon here, Allen Hancock inherited $400,000 from his grandfather.

The bequest wasn't a big surprise, but for someone who saw himself as socially progressive and in some ways an activist, it meant that he had to make some important decisions about the kind of life he would lead.

Today, the results of those decisions are clear: Mr. Hancock lives a relatively frugal existence in a large old home he purchased with four unrelated adults. He shares a car with three others and bikes around Eugene. Hancock and his housemates share cooking, cleaning, and gardening.

``My values are steady,'' he says. ``Those are all choices I know I would have made regardless of my income or assets.'' Hancock also edits ``More than Money,'' a quarterly publication that describes itself as ``written for people questioning society's assumptions about money, and particularly for those with inherited or earned wealth seeking a more just and sustainable world.''

As for his own money, he says, ``I invest some, I spend some for myself, and I give some away.''

The decisions Hancock faced about inherited wealth will become increasingly typical.

Between now and the year 2000, nearly $1 trillion will pass to baby boomers in the form of bequests. The annual turnover of wealth will peak at $336 billion in the year 2015, according to a study by Robert Avery and Michael Rendall, researchers at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., totaling more than $10 trillion (in 1989 dollars) by the year 2040.

These projected funds, based on federal government figures, will be 115 million bequests with a mean value of just over $90,000 each.

``This is a large number, totaling 62 percent of the total 1989 US household wealth of $16.7 trillion,'' Mr. Avery and Mr. Rendall reported last November to a round-table meeting on philanthropy. ``It is almost twice the total 1989 US GNP [gross national product], and over 13 times total 1989 private savings.''

For many people, this will be a chance to pay off the mortgage or to splurge. Others will have to decide about loaning or donating money to individuals and organizations.

All these decisions will involve important and sometimes very personal choices about values and ideals, which can be difficult to discuss - even within families.

That's where Christopher Mogil and Anne Slepian come in. A married couple with a three-year-old son, Micah, they are co-directors of the nonprofit ``Impact Project.''

Based in Arlington, Mass., the three-year-old project provides personal and financial counseling for relatively wealthy people, particularly younger people and those with inherited money. This includes ``socially responsible'' investing as well as philanthropic planning with an emphasis on progressive community-based giving.

Ms. Slepian and Mr. Mogil's story starts just before they were married, when Mogil inherited several hundred thousand dollars ``out of the blue.'' He was a community organizer, and she had spent six years as a social worker with the Massachusetts Union of Public Housing Tenants.

``I was a social activist seeing enormous needs out in the world, and then suddenly I got this inherited money ... and all those needs started knocking at my door,'' Mogil recalls. ``All the people I knew whom I had been working with suddenly saw me as somebody to approach for contributions, so money and class issues were in my face a lot.''

He set up a small foundation - the ``Chutzpah Fund'' - through which he donates a considerable amount of his inheritance in what he calls ``social change philanthropy.''

Mogil and Slepian interviewed 40 individuals and couples, who had given at least 20 percent of their assets totaling at least $100,000 to promote social change. In 1992, they wrote ``We Gave Away a Fortune,'' profiling 16 of their subjects.

Published in conjunction with the Funding Exchange, a New York-based network of alter- native foundations, those interviewed include such names as DuPont, Pillsbury, and Cabot. Some asked to remain anonymous. Others include Millard Fuller, who founded Habitat for Humanity, and Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben & Jerry's ice-cream company.

The Impact Project also publishes ``More than Money,'' edited in Oregon by Hancock. Now a year old, the quarterly includes advice on such subjects as loaning money to friends, deciding how much is ``enough'' to live on, and ``untangling net worth from self-worth.''

Mogil says that for many who inherit money - particularly younger people - these issues can present serious dilemmas. ``They go through a phase of thinking `Why me?' and feeling a little overwhelmed.''

As counselors, Mogil and Slepian (together with volunteers connected with the Impact Project) help people find donor networks, foundations, and individual causes with which to become active in addition to donating money.

``Money isn't neutral,'' Mogil says, ``it has not only financial value but social value. The choice that we make can be either negative or positive, and we can choose to make it positive.''

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