Wealth is a relative term.

For much of human history, most people have lived and died without large nest eggs to pass along to surviving spouses, their children or other heirs. Indeed, for millions and millions of people, life itself has been a matter of daily survival, with precious little to pass along.

For many people in the world, this is still the case today.

Many of us in the United States, however, are fortunate enough to have wealth to transfer. Recognizing this good fortune helps put particular estate planning decisions in perspective. In this post, we will give some comparative context for this favorable fortune.

A study by the financial firm HSBC found, for example, that among retired Americans with wealth to pass along, the average size of the estate is about $175,000.

To be sure, not everyone is able to bestow a financial inheritance on heirs in their family or other designated parties. After all, for all its wealth, the U.S. also has great income disparity and deep pockets of poverty.

Overall, though, according to the HSBC study, more than half of retired Americans believe they will be able to pass along an inheritance.

Of course, the ways to do this most strategically depend greatly on individual circumstances. The best use of wills, trusts, gifts and so on depends on particular goals. Our point in this post is merely that compared to the rest of the world and to most of human history, many Americans have a lot to pass along.

Source: International Business Times, “US Retirees Expect To Leave $175,000 To Their Heirs, Says New HSBC Study,” Lisa Mahapatra, Dec. 6, 2013