Encouraging bequests amidst the great wealth transfer

With an estimated $3.5 trillion poised to change hands in Australia over the next two decades, artists and cultural organisations should review their bequest strategies in readiness for the monumental asset move from Baby Boomers to younger generations, in what has been billed as ‘the great wealth transfer’.

The great wealth transfer


Cue the Succession main title theme because the largest worldwide transfer of intergenerational wealth is underway.

The global value of the great wealth transfer remains elusive, with estimates varying widely across different reports and timeframes, complicating efforts to pinpoint a precise figure. Knight Frank’s 2024 Wealth Report predicts that US$90 trillion in assets will be passed down between generations over the next 20 years in the United States [1], an increase from the landmark 2022 Cerulli Associates study which initially pitched it at US$84.4 trillion.[2] Meanwhile, research from Wealth-X published in 2021, focused on those with a net worth of more than $5 million, reported that North America will lead global transfer to 2032 with an estimated value of $10.6 trillion. The wealthy class in Europe will pass on $3.6 trillion, ahead of third-ranked Asia, with an expected $2.5 trillion transfer.[3] Together, they will account for 91% of global wealth transfers by 2030.[4]

Locally, the Productivity Commission’s 2021 research paper forecasts that Australians will transfer A$3.5 trillion in wealth during the next two decades, equating to an average of A$175 billion per year.[5] Historical data from 2018 shows that close to 90% (or just over A$100 billion) of wealth was transferred via inheritances – the vast majority to surviving children, and the remaining to a surviving spouse as well as other family and friends. Only 2 per cent went to charity.[6]

The growth rate of high-net-worth women is outpacing men, fuelled by entrepreneurship, greater workforce participation (including in leadership positions and sectors traditionally dominated by men), and intergenerational wealth transfers.[7] JBWere reported last month that women will be the primary beneficiaries of the great Australian wealth transfer – set to inherit 65% of the intergenerational wealth transfer (now valued at A$4.9 trillion) by 2034.[8] This is not only due to women outliving men, but also because of “the oldest daughter effect”- where control of the family finances is most likely to be managed by the oldest daughter in the family.[9] Women are also more likely than men to recognise the overall positive impacts of arts and creativity, according to the results of Creative Australia’s 2022 National Arts Participation Survey.[10] This confluence of wealth accumulation and cultural affinity presents a unique opportunity for the cultural and creative industries.

Forging partnerships with wealth advisors and financial planners will become increasingly important. The historically male-dominated field of wealth management is making systematic practice changes to meet the needs of the changing demographics spurred by the great wealth transfer.[11] The cultural and creative industries is well positioned to support this business challenge by partnering with wealth management firms to build and deepen holistic client relationships.


How your final act can be your greatest gift


Artists have long held a unique capacity to approach, interpret, and converse with the concept of death, making the arts an invaluable lens through which we can explore our mortality and legacy. Historically, art has served as a medium for processing grief, celebrating life, and confronting the inevitabilities of death. For supporters who have enjoyed lifelong participation in arts and culture, the act of leaving a legacy through a bequest is not merely a financial transaction but a deeply personal, creative gesture – a final contribution to the ongoing dialogue between life and death, presence and absence. It is a declaration of belief in the power of arts and culture to transcend time, to communicate across generations, and to continue influencing society long after the donor’s life.


Legacy gifts


Recent research from Philanthropy Australia suggests that approximately 7% of Australians leave a bequest in their will, averaging about $40,000 – $50,000.[12] Creative Partnerships Australia reported large percentage drops in the value of bequests across three Giving Attitude studies – from $49 million (during the 2018 calendar year and 2018/19 financial year) to $17 million (during the 2019 calendar year and 2019/20 financial year) to $7 million (during the 2020 calendar year and 2020/21 financial year).[13] Considering the greater transfer and the declining value of bequests within the arts and cultural sector, there is opportunity to place increased emphasis on how to spark a conversation about gifts in wills with both new and existing supporters.

Bequests occupy a distinctive position, often considered the apex of philanthropic giving.[14] Unlike immediate donations, bequests are planned gifts, designated through a will or estate planning, to be distributed upon the donor’s passing. This form of giving allows individuals to make significant contributions that may not have been possible during their lifetime, due to financial constraints or other commitments. Bequests are a testament to a donor’s long-term vision for the causes they care deeply about, reflecting a desire to leave a legacy that extends beyond their lifetime.

The donor pyramid and moves management are pivotal in philanthropic strategy.[15] They serve as the framework and process for stewarding donor relationships and growing support. At the base are the prospective and first-time donors: individuals who have shown initial interest or have just begun their giving journey. This level represents the largest group but involves smaller contributions. As we move up the pyramid, the number of donors decreases, but their level of engagement and the size of their contributions increase. Repeat and regular donors form the mid-section, providing steady support through continued donations. Higher up are major donors, whose significant gifts often help shape projects and an organisation’s direction. Moves management operationalises this framework, guiding cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship to elevate donors through the pyramid. Together, they enable organisations to tailor engagement approaches, efficiently allocate resources, foster long-term relationships, and ultimately secure the vital philanthropic support necessary for sustained impact.

While foundational to cultivating and maximising philanthropic contributions, elevating donors through the donor pyramid can present certain disadvantages, particularly in the context of the great intergenerational wealth transfer. A significant concern is time. The process is inherently long-term. It demands persistent, strategic engagement and the cultivation of relationships over years, if not decades.


Flipping the pyramid


In the face of the imminent great intergenerational wealth transfer, there is significant opportunity to explore innovative strategies that can more immediately tap into this vast pool of potential philanthropic capital. The traditional time-intensive approach may not align well with the speed at which this wealth transfer will occur. This risks potentially leaving artists and cultural organisations as underrepresented beneficiaries of the great wealth transfer, especially compared to other causes like religion, education, health, and social welfare that are already piloting and refining innovative gifts in wills strategies.

Ascending through the donor pyramid is not the only path to securing legacy gifts. Arts and cultural organisations that receive bequests despite having no formal fundraising strategy – often from a founder, former staff or board member – demonstrate that what matters most is fostering a meaningful sense of belonging and connection.

A clear, large-scale direct to bequest campaign offers one proactive strategy for organisations to immediately engage with the potential of the great intergenerational wealth transfer. This approach bypasses the traditional, gradual ascent up the donor pyramid, instead inviting supporters directly to consider leaving a legacy through a bequest. Creating a campaign for prospective supporters that not only mirrors the existing gifts in will profile but focuses on the shifting demographics prompted by the great wealth transfer is critical. It is vital to also recognise that this work cannot be undertaken by one individual or department along – instead, a collaborative, whole-of-organisation approach is essential.


Main takeaways


  • Artists and cultural organisations should review bequest strategies and consider innovative approaches that better resonate with potential donors looking to make a swift and significant impact within their lifetimes. This is particularly timely with the declining value of bequests across the arts and cultural sector and the massive wealth shift on the horizon. A direct to bequest campaign is one strategy to consider.
  • The changing face of economic influence must also be considered – significant volumes of wealth will flow to women during the great wealth transfer. Some will also flow directly to charities. Partnering with wealth management firms to build and deepen holistic client relationships presents a tactical opportunity.
  • A great sum of money will also transfer to Millennials, who are set to become the richest generation in history.[16] Fostering a culture of giving amongst this generation is essential in future proofing arts and culture philanthropy in Australia.

Creative Australia’s State Manager Development and Partnerships provide a free coaching and advice service aimed at building the fundraising capacity of individuals and organisations within the cultural and creative industries. Make an appointment with your local State Manager Development and Partnerships to discuss how you might elevate your bequest strategy and engage the next generation of philanthropic supporters. A resource to expand your knowledge of bequests is also available here.



1. Frank Knight 2024, The Wealth Report 2024: The global perspective on prime property and investment

2. Cerulli Associates 2022, Cerulli Anticipates $84 Trillion in Wealth Transfers Through 2045 [media release], 20 January

3. Wealth-X 2021, Preservation and Success: Family Wealth Transfer 2021

4. Wealth-X 2021, Preservation and Success: Family Wealth Transfer 2021

5. Australian Government Productivity Commission 2021, Wealth transfers and their economic effect

6. Australian Government Productivity Commission 2021, Wealth transfers and their economic effect

7. Dean L 2024, ‘Women overwhelming winners in $5trn Baby Boomer wealth transfer’, Australian Financial Review, 22 March. https://www.afr.com/wealth/personal-finance/women-overwhelming-winners-in-5trn-baby-boomer-wealth-transfer-20240319-p5fdjl

8. JBWere 2024, The growth of Women and Wealth: A closer look at Australia’s growing cohort of high-net-worth female investors

9. JBWere 2024, The growth of Women and Wealth: A closer look at Australia’s growing cohort of high-net-worth female investors

10. Creative Australia 2023, Creating Value: Results of the National Arts Participation Survey

11. McKinsey & Company 2020, Women as the next wave of growth in US wealth management

12. Philanthropy Australia 2022, Giving Trends and Opportunities

13. Creative Partnerships Australia 2023, Giving Attitudes 2.5: Private Sector Support Survey Pandemic Edition

14. Australian Business Arts Foundation 2012, Connect with donors: A guide for the arts to build relationships with donors.

15. Australian Business Arts Foundation 2012, Connect with donors: A guide for the arts to build relationships with donors.

16. Bahney A 2024. ‘Millenials stand to become the richest generation in history, after $90 trillion wealth transfer’, CNN, 1 March. https://edition.cnn.com/2024/03/01/economy/millennials-richest-generation-in-history/index.html


Matthew Higgins

State Manager Development and Partnerships (QLD)