Starting with the Obituaries

Sarah Waldeck, Concurring Opinions Blog, Concurring Opinions, 9/28/2015

I recently came across a great piece of Estates and Trusts scholarship: "Making Things Fair": An Empirical Study of How People Approach the Wealth Transmission System, by Naomi Cahn and Amy Ziettlow. I was hooked as soon as I read that Cahn and Ziettlow began their data collection by reading every obituary that appeared in Baton Rouge's most popular newspaper over a seven-month period and then invited the decedents' adult children and stepchildren to participate in their study. Because Cahn and Ziettlow started with obituaries, and not probate records, they were able to explore testate and intestacy experiences from both inside and outside the probate process. Most significantly, Cahn and Ziettlow's methodology allowed them to include poor and middle class families, demographic groups that are often altogether ignored in estates and trusts pedagogy and scholarship. Their interviews with decedents' children suggest that family dynamics often determine inheritance and that black letter law often matters very little. The interviews also show that children greatly appreciate any kind of estate planning by their parents, and Cahn and Ziettlow offer creative suggestions for prodding people to plan.

Subjects: Death/dying, Family

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