Using parametric models that describe the increase in mortality rates with age, we demonstrate that environmentally induced heterogeneity among genetically identical individuals is sufficient to generate biased estimates of age-specific genetic variance. Although the magnitude of the bias may change with age, one general trend emerges: the true genetic variance at the oldest ages is likely to be dramatically underestimated. Our results are robust to different manifestations of heterogeneity and suggest that such a bias is a general feature of these models. We note that age-dependent estimates of genetic variance for characters that are correlated with mortality (either genetically or environmentally) can be expected to be similarly affected. The results are independent of sample size and suggest that the bias may be more widespread in the literature than is currently appreciated. Our results are discussed with reference to existing data on mortality variance in Drosophila melanogaster.