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Will writing and bequest motives: early 20th century Irish evidence

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  • Leslie McGranahan

Abstract

This paper develops a simple model of the decision to write a will prior to death and tests the implications of the model using data from Ireland prior to the advent of state provided old age support. The model assumes that individuals write wills in order to change the distribution of their assets from the distribution that would occur in the absence of a will and that individuals incur will writing costs. The model leads to the predictions that individuals whose desired distribution differs most dramatically from the default and those who face the lowest costs will be the most likely to write wills. A data set that matches individual Irish estate records from 1901 to 1905 to household records from the 1901 Irish Census is used to test these implications. I find that age, wealth, and landholding influence will writing. I also find that individuals, particularly women and non-landholders, who appear to be dependent on others in old age are more likely to write wills. This result suggests that will writers may be writing wills in order to repay the relatives who provided for them in old age and is consistent with a strategic bequest motive. The data provide little evidence that the characteristics of potential beneficiaries influence the will writing decision. In contrast to studies using modern data that find little evidence of altruistic or strategic bequest motives, I find some evidence that exchange motives partly governed the will writing decision.

Suggested Citation

  • Leslie McGranahan, 2006. "Will writing and bequest motives: early 20th century Irish evidence," Working Paper Series WP-06-18, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fedhwp:wp-06-18
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    File URL: http://www.chicagofed.org/digital_assets/publications/working_papers/2006/wp2006_18.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Samuel H. Preston & Michael R. Haines, 1991. "Fatal Years: Child Mortality in Late Nineteenth-Century America," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number pres91-1.
    2. Andreoni, James, 1990. "Impure Altruism and Donations to Public Goods: A Theory of Warm-Glow Giving?," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 100(401), pages 464-477, June.
    3. Bernheim, B Douglas & Shleifer, Andrei & Summers, Lawrence H, 1986. "The Strategic Bequest Motive," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 4(3), pages 151-182, July.
    4. Wilhelm, Mark O, 1996. "Bequest Behavior and the Effect of Heirs' Earnings: Testing the Altruistic Model of Bequests," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, pages 874-892.
    5. Wilhelm, Mark O, 1996. "Bequest Behavior and the Effect of Heirs' Earnings: Testing the Altruistic Model of Bequests," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, pages 874-892.
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    Cited by:

    1. Ashok Mishra & Hisham El-Osta, 2008. "Effect of agricultural policy on succession decisions of farm households," Review of Economics of the Household, Springer, vol. 6(3), pages 285-307, September.
    2. Holmlund, Bertil, 2014. "What do labor market institutions do?," Labour Economics, Elsevier, pages 62-69.
    3. Eliason, M. & Ohlsson, H., 2013. "Timing of death and the repeal of the Swedish inheritance tax," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 45(C), pages 113-123.
    4. Erixson, Oscar & Ohlsson, Henry, 2014. "Estate division: Equal sharing as choice, social norm, and legal requirement," Working Paper Series 2014:1, Uppsala University, Department of Economics.
    5. Ohlsson, Henry, 2007. "The equal division puzzle – empirical evidence on intergenerational transfers in Sweden," Working Paper Series 2007:10, Uppsala University, Department of Economics.
    6. Livio Di Matteo, 2008. "Wealth accumulation motives: evidence from the probate records of Ontario, 1892 and 1902," Cliometrica, Journal of Historical Economics and Econometric History, Association Française de Cliométrie (AFC), vol. 2(2), pages 143-171, July.

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    Keywords

    Inheritance and succession ; Inheritance and succession - Ireland;

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