Black and Hispanic Americans are less likely to have a will or receive an inheritance than their white counterparts, furthering wealth inequities, according to a new study from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

Even among those who do plan to leave a bequest, the report said, minorities are less likely to realize their bequest targets.

Titled “Wills, Wealth, and Race,” the study was co-authored by professors Jean-Pierre Aubry and Alicia H. Munnell, along with Gal Wettstein, a senior research economist. All work at Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Mass.

Inheritance, they wrote, makes up “a substantial share of national wealth"—though they argued it’s often overlooked in discussions of retirement security.

Thus, racial gaps in inheritances are likely to “exacerbate racial disparities in wealth,” they said.

To advisors with a diverse client pool, these results are hardly news. “Based on my experience working with African American and white families, there is a lag [among minority clients],” said Ellis Liddell, CEO of ELE Wealth Management in Southfield, Mich., who was not involved in the study. “The primary reason is the lack of opportunities and unequitable earnings for African Americans and Hispanic Americans, thus leaving fewer options for building wealth.”

There is a multigenerational ripple effect from this disparity, too, the report found. Most Black and Hispanic clients don’t have adequate estate planning partly because fewer of them received inherited assets in the first place. “Reducing racial bequest gaps could have long-term implications on the lifetime asset accumulations of subsequent generations and may, in turn, reduce the racial wealth gap,” the paper stated.

Chloé A. Moore, a certified financial planner and founder of Financial Staples in Atlanta, who was not part of the study, isn’t surprised by these findings either. Many of her clients are minorities. “Even when there's an opportunity to build wealth for the first generation,” she said, “some Black and Hispanic households have to manage student loan debt or care for aging parents and other family members, in addition to investing for themselves and future generations.”

For some of her clients who are the first in their family or even their community to have assets, "the idea of estate planning could be a foreign concept,” she said. Some of them believe such planning is only for those with really huge estates. “I explain to them that everyone has an estate,” she said, “and having an estate plan is a way to protect your family and ensure that your wishes are carried out.”

For her, one solution is recommending life insurance. It can “help close this gap,” she said. Adequate coverage can not only support loved ones who depend on the client’s income but also “fund future needs such as college-education expenses for their children,” she said. “Having proper life insurance coverage helps to ensure that their spouse and dependents don't have to play catch up in the event of their untimely death, and they can continue the cycle of building wealth.”

It’s not just about wealth, she added. It’s equally important to name “guardians for minors, an executor to oversee the distribution of your assets, and in some cases trustees for trusts,” she said.

In addition, cultural stigma may be partly responsible for the lack of estate planning in minority communities. For many minority clients, “inheritance or estate planning is taboo,” said Liddell. “[It] is considered death planning, although nothing can be farther from the truth.  Only financial education can help to overcome these stereotypes.”

The report further stressed that the difference between inheriting some wealth and none—that is, relying solely on income and, in retirement, on Social Security—is huge. “Wealth provides a buffer that allows families to withstand emergencies and enables people to select risker but higher compensation jobs and investments,” it said.

Another cause of the disparity could simply be lack of access to solid financial guidance. “Limited access to qualified advisors and attorneys who understand a family’s specific values, needs, and concerns can make [planning] even more challenging,” said Fatima Iqbal, senior investment strategist and financial planner at Azzad Asset Management in Falls Church Va., who was not involved in the study.

She, too, has many minority clients. “Understanding how an estate plan works and is implemented is as important as having the right documents,” she said. “Not having guidance on proper implementation of the plan means [the client’s] wishes may not be met after all.”

For advisors to do a better job of serving minority clients, they might need to have a certain awareness and sensitivity, she said. “Incorporating cultural and religious values can require more customized estate planning that doesn’t fit into cookie-cutter documents,” she explained.

The need for a more nuanced approach is critical. The research report pointed out that inheritance laws tend to favor traditional family structures. A home that’s purchased by a married couple will, in most cases, pass to a surviving spouse even if there is no will. But most families today are more complicated. There are ex-spouses and stepchildren, for instance. So having no will “can result in the wrong outcome when the intended beneficiaries are not related by blood, marriage, or adoption,” the paper said.

Moore at Financial Staples agreed. “Having a proper estate plan becomes even more important when you have a nontraditional family,” she said. “Some clients are in long-term relationships and/or have children outside of marriage. Not having a will or estate plan in these cases can lead to unintended consequences.”

Intestacy—the technical term for dying without a will—is “especially high among Black and Hispanic individuals,” the report found, “even after controlling for a wide array of demographic and socioeconomic characteristics.”

The repercussions of these inequities can be profound.

“A substantial portion of current wealth is due to inheritances,” said the paper. Given that, it asked, how much of current wealth inequality is due to disparities in inheritance?