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Inheritance in Contemporary America

The Social Dimensions of Giving across Generations

Jacqueline L. Angel

Publication Year: 2008

With the baby boom generation on the cusp of retirement, life expectancies on the rise, and the nation’s cultural makeup in flux, the United States is faced with social and policy quandaries that demand attention. How are elders to balance the competing claims of helping family members during their lifetime, saving for old age, and planning estates? What roles should the state, family, and individuals play in supporting people during later life? Are new familial gift-giving trends sustainable, and, if so, what effects might they have on future generations? Inheritance in Contemporary America tackles the complex legal, policy, and emotional issues that surround bequests and inheritances in an era of increasing longevity, broadening ethnicity, and unraveling social safety nets. Through empirical analyses, case studies, interviews, and anecdotes, Jacqueline L. Angel explains the historical nature of familial giving and how it is changing as the nation’s demographics shift. She explores the legal, personal, and policy complexities involved in passing wealth down through generations and provides a cross-disciplinary context for exploring the indelible effects that newly unfolding inheritance practices will have on various societal cohorts and the nation in general. From nuclear and extended families to the state and nongovernmental bodies, Angel’s engaging study explores how attitudes toward giving are evolving and confronts in stark terms the legacy that these shifts in attitude will leave. This book will be a vital tool for scholars and practitioners in gerontology, sociology, psychology, anthropology, economics, political science, and public policy.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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Front Matter

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pp. vii-ix

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pp. xi-xiii

I became interested in contemporary inheritance practices while doing research for a book that looked at elderly people and their relationship to their families. In the course of that research, I made the startling discovery that the health of our aging population is inextricably linked to wealth. This fact presents...

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1 The Story of Inheritance

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pp. 1-9

Inheritance takes many forms in our society. Yet, no matter how different we are from each other, to all of us inheritance means passing something of value— wisdom, property, cash—from one generation to a later one. How do our nation’s social, demographic, and economic changes affect the concept and practice of a...

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2 The Inheritance Revolution

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pp. 10-23

Americans who once thought they would rely mostly on Social Security benefits during retirement are faced with the reality that those funds might not be there. They must now find other sources of money to fill the Social Security gap, should it occur. Inheritances and bequests will play a crucial role in sustaining or...

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3 The Political Realities ofRetirement Security

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pp. 24-35

As the elderly population increases, social and political pressures are being felt at every level of society, from the kitchen table to the corporate board room. As one generation is poised to collect Social Security, another is being told there won’t be enough money to fund their retirement. Consequently, personal savings...

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4 Dimensions of Giving between Generations

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pp. 36-57

Today, there are essentially two methods of transferring wealth from one generation to the next: gift giving and inheritance. In the former, a living relative gives a cash grant to a specific person. This in effect distributes the recipient’s inheritance before the donor actually dies. The second method is the traditional will, which...

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5 Money Memories

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pp. 58-76

Over the past ten years, I have spoken to hundreds of people about their attitudes toward gift giving and family inheritance. In these casual conversations I have found that even individuals close to me often have a trying time expressing their feelings. It seems that articulating any opinion—strong, weak, or neutral—on...

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6 Contemporary Values and Beliefs regarding Intergenerational Transfers

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pp. 77-91

In agrarian societies, the rules surrounding gifts and bequests defined kinship and status and determined the boundaries of family and community, as discussed in Chapter 2. Today we view property and money as material goods to be bought, sold, or given away. Yet, the exchange of material goods and money is not so...

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7 Leaving a Legacy

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pp. 92-110

This chapter looks at the body of issues that many families today face when planning their estate or long-term care. Increasingly, planning is essential; about two-thirds of Americans believe it is important to leave their heirs a bequest, but some people are perplexed by whether to spend their estate while alive or preserve...

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8 Inheritance and the Next Generation of Old-Age Policies

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pp. 111-133

The major challenges facing benefactors are family communication and governmental taxing policies. Most families see leaving and receiving inheritances as an act of love between generations. The taxing authorities see estate taxes as a way to increase their coffers. The state has another vested interest in beneficial inheritance practices...

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9 Summary and New Directions for Research

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pp. 134-146

In this chapter I highlight major recent research findings about intergenerational gift giving and bequests and propose a research agenda with fertile questions and issues to be addressed by researchers and policy makers in the coming decades. The evidence intermingled throughout this book helps open new windows...

Appendix A

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pp. 147-149

Appendix B

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p. 150


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pp. 151-172


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pp. 173-177

E-ISBN-13: 9781421401683
E-ISBN-10: 1421401681
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801887635
Print-ISBN-10: 0801887631

Page Count: 200
Illustrations: 5 line drawings
Publication Year: 2008

OCLC Number: 652294482
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Inheritance in Contemporary America

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Older people -- Care -- United States.
  • Older people -- Family relationships -- United States.
  • Estate planning -- United States.
  • Wealth -- United States.
  • Inheritance and transfer tax -- United States.
  • Older people -- Health and hygiene -- United States.
  • Inheritance and succession -- United States.
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