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Unequal Bequests

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  • Francesconi, Marco

    (University of Essex)

  • Pollak, Robert

    (Washington University, St. Louis)

  • Tabasso, Domenico

    (UNHCR)

Abstract

Using data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), we make two contributions to the literature on end-of-life transfers. First, we show that unequal bequests are much more common than generally recognized, with one-third of parents with wills planning to divide their estates unequally among their children. These plans for unequal division are particularly concentrated in complex families, that is, families with stepchildren and families with genetic children with whom the parent has had no contact (e.g., children from previous marriages). We find that in complex families past and current contact between parents and children reduces or eliminates unequal bequests. Second, although the literature focuses on the bequest intentions of parents who have made wills, we find that many elderly Americans have not made wills. Although the probability of having a will increases with age, 30 percent of HRS respondents aged 70 and over have no wills. Of HRS respondents who died between 1995 and 2010, 38 percent died intestate (i.e., without wills). Thus, focusing exclusively on the bequest intentions of parents who have made wills provides an incomplete and misleading picture of end-of-life transfers.

Suggested Citation

  • Francesconi, Marco & Pollak, Robert & Tabasso, Domenico, 2015. "Unequal Bequests," IZA Discussion Papers 8813, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp8813
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    Cited by:

    1. Frank Cowell & Dirk Van de gaer, 2017. "Condorcet was Wrong, Pareto was Right: Families, Inheritance and Inequality," STICERD - Public Economics Programme Discussion Papers 34, Suntory and Toyota International Centres for Economics and Related Disciplines, LSE.
    2. Olivera, Javier, 2017. "The division of inter-vivos parental transfers in Europe," The Journal of the Economics of Ageing, Elsevier, vol. 9(C), pages 41-51.
    3. Stark, Oded & Cukrowska-Torzewska, Ewa, 2018. "Gender differentiation in intergenerational care-giving and migration choices," The Journal of the Economics of Ageing, Elsevier, vol. 12(C), pages 118-134.
    4. Max Groneck, 2017. "Bequests and Informal Long-Term Care: Evidence from HRS Exit Interviews," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 52(2), pages 531-572.
    5. Francesconi, Marco & Slonimczyk, Fabian & Yurko, Anna, 2017. "Moving On Up for High School Graduates in Russia: The Consequences of the Uni ed State Exam Reform," CEPR Discussion Papers 11996, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    6. Oscar Erixson & Henry Ohlsson, 2019. "Estate division: equal sharing, exchange motives, and Cinderella effects," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 32(4), pages 1437-1480, October.
    7. Max Groneck & Frederic Krehl, 2014. "Bequests and Informal Long-Term Care: Evidence from the HRS Exit Interviews," Working Paper Series in Economics 79, University of Cologne, Department of Economics.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    bequests; intergenerational transfers; altruism; exchange; evolutionary motives; family structure;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • D13 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Household Production and Intrahouse Allocation
    • J12 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Marriage; Marital Dissolution; Family Structure
    • K36 - Law and Economics - - Other Substantive Areas of Law - - - Family and Personal Law

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