A Survey of Preferences for Estate Distribution at Death Part 2: Children and Other Beneficiaries
23 Pages Posted: 24 Jan 2023
Date Written: January 20, 2023
This is the second of two papers presenting the results of a nationally representative survey of 9,000 American adults in which we asked people how they want to distribute their property when they die. In the first paper, we focused on gifts to spouses and partners. In this second paper, we focus on gifts to children, parents, siblings, and other beneficiaries. We offer several important findings. First, respondents depart to a surprising degree from the pattern of lineal familial descent favored by intestacy law. Respondents give much less to their parents than the law of intestacy currently provides and much more to siblings, extended relatives, and friends. Second, people are surprisingly generous to their stepchildren. Our respondents prefer stepchildren over every type of family member other than their spouses and their own children. This result starkly contrasts with state intestacy law, which almost never provides stepchildren anything. Taken together, our results suggest unexpectedly strong preferences for younger generations over older ones and for personal affinities over blood relationships. Our survey method improves upon prior empirical studies of probated wills by offering a less biased sample and by providing the first reliable data on unconventional families and less common beneficiaries.
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