Inheriting Inequality: Wealth, Race, and the Laws of Succession
52 Pages Posted: 6 Dec 2010 Last revised: 16 Jan 2011
Date Written: August 24, 2010
The article begins by documenting deep inequality in the form of Black-White wealth disparities: While the overall wealth distribution in the United States is highly unequal from both historical and international perspectives, racial wealth disparities are particularly acute, with median Black net worth approximately a tenth of median White net worth (as compared to median Black income that is approximately two-thirds of median White income). Next, the article ties the perpetuation of this inequality to current inheritance law. It then confronts this inequality as a civil rights issue in terms of its social effects, its historical causes, and legal avenues for attacking it. Finally, the article proposes two changes in our laws of succession to address this contemporary manifestation of White advantage and Black disadvantage. First, the article explains how civil rights considerations support existing proposals that inheritances be taxed as windfall income to those who receive them (as are lottery winnings currently). Second, the article identifies a need for revising intestacy law to provide heirs with clear title to assets, especially homes belonging to families of modest wealth whose wealth is primarily the value of those homes.
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