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