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Leaving an inheritance: The dilemmas of bequest giving

Powell, Rhian 2021. Leaving an inheritance: The dilemmas of bequest giving. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.
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This research is about the dilemmas that people encounter when thinking about what to do with their money after they pass away. Deciding how to distribute an inheritance requires the testator to confront, and prioritise, multiple potentially competing moral, social and political beliefs as they try to decide which members of future generations need and deserve their money most. My research is focused around three of the largest considerations that testators grapple with when making their decisions – the family, charities and inheritance tax – and the different moral and social dilemmas that each of these considerations present. In order to explore these dilemmas, in-depth semi-structured interviews were carried out with twenty-two people living in south Wales. Individual and joint-couple interviews were used to explore the decision-making process that people undertook when making their decisions. My research shows that decisions about how to distribute an inheritance are complex and multifaceted, involving the consideration of multiple different factors. In making these decisions participants asked themselves questions such as, who do they have responsibilities and obligations towards? How much should each beneficiary receive? Are these beneficiaries deserving? Is this the fair thing to do? My research shows that whilst family are an important consideration, there are reasons people believe they also have responsibilities to those outside of the family. Reasons included concerns about leaving ‘too much’ to family, the deservingness of family members and worries about how family members might spend their money. Leaving bequests to charitable organisations or to the State through inheritance tax were not straightforward decisions either and raised their own dilemmas about equality, fairness and social justice. These dilemmas were complex and often paradoxical forcing testators to confront their potentially competing moral, social and political beliefs. My research shows that decisions about how inheritances should be divided are highly context-dependent but are also based on the testator’s ideas of need, merit, fairness, legacy, social justice and intergenerational justice. My research is an exploratory project which offers an insight into both the ‘public’ and ‘private’ dimensions of the bequest decision-making process. Understanding the dilemmas involved in this process is vital for understanding who receives what money and reflects more general attitudes towards civil society, the family and the State. My research offers insights to charitable organisations who are becoming increasingly dependent on charitable bequests, and also provides a sociological enquiry into attitudes towards inheritance taxation and its associated debates on equality and fairness.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Date Type: Completion
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Social Sciences (Includes Criminology and Education)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Funders: DTP
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 9 March 2021
Last Modified: 09 Mar 2021 08:04

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