Families, Relationships and Societies
An international journal of research and debate

Inheritance and family conflicts: exploring asset transfers shaping intergenerational relations

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  • 1 University of Bristol, UK
  • | 2 University College Dublin, Ireland
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In contemporary societies with slower economic growth and increased rates of home ownership, asset transfers are of increasing importance for families as a way of transmitting advantages over generations. Compared to the positive impact, however, little is known about how inheritance generates disputes, tensions or dissatisfaction among family members, and how law, policy and practice play a role in this process. Drawing evidence from English court cases, this article develops categories of asset transfers over generations that cause or accentuate disputes in families, and contributes to theoretical debates on family solidarity, conflict and ambivalence by examining how such family conflicts are embedded in a wider family history and established social and institutional systems. The analysis, based on the three-fold framework of contested intentions of transfers, challenged distributions of assets and unexpected timing of transfers, demonstrates that family relations rest on a delicate balance of autonomy and dependency in families. It also highlights the critical interaction between institutional systems and interpersonal family relations. The lack of accurate knowledge and different interpretations of inheritance laws and intestacy rules among potential testators and beneficiaries contribute to family disputes over inheritance.

  • 1 University of Bristol, UK
  • | 2 University College Dublin, Ireland

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