Death and Dollars: The Role of Gifts and Bequests in America

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Overview

Despite the recent downturn in the stock market, the 1990s boom and the shift to defined contribution plans mean that more individuals will have significant wealth upon retirement. How they use that wealth will determine not only their own well-being, but also the living standards of their children, the resources available to philanthropies, and the level of investment capital in the economy.

This volume explores the reasons why people save, how they decide to allocate their wealth once they retire, and how givers select their beneficiaries. It also assesses the extent to which the estate tax and annuitization of retirement wealth affects the amount and nature of wealth transfers. Finally, it looks at the impact of wealth transfers——first on the amount of aggregate saving and capital accumulation, and then on the distribution of wealth among households.

Several conclusions emerge. First, gifts and bequests are important; they may account for about half of total wealth in America. Second, rich people make most of the wealth transfers. They are thoughtful about how much they pay in taxes and how they dispose of their wealth. They care about philanthropic causes and view their charitable contributions as more than a way to avoid paying estate taxes. Third, most nonrich people probably have some lexicographic preferences about the disposition of their wealth; they want to ensure they have adequate resources to take care of their own needs, and if money is left over, they would like it to go to their children. Fourth, little support has emerged for the pure altruistic model of bequests. Fifth, institutions matter. In the case of the rich, the estate tax probably reduces saving and increases bequests to charity. In the case of the nonrich, the shift to defined contribution plans will at a minimum mean that they have more wealth in their hands when they die, and therefore they will leave larger accidental bequests. It might also increase their interest in leaving an estate for their heirs.

Saving and bequest behavior remains a fertile ground for future research. Major differences of opinion remain on such important issues as the effect of bequests on the distribution of wealth. The contributors to this volume provide a summary of existing knowledge, push the debate forward, and link topics in a unique and comprehensive way. At the same time, they make clear that many questions remain unresolved about the motives for and effects of wealth transfers.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780815758907
  • Publisher: Brookings Institution Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/2003
  • Pages: 432
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Alicia H. Munnell is the Peter F. Drucker Professor of Management Sciences at Boston

College's Carroll School of Management and director of the Center for Retirement

Research at Boston College. A former member of the president's Council of Economic

Advisers, she has written or edited numerous books, including Com ing Up Short:The

Challenge of 401(k) Plans, with Annika Sundén (Brookings, 2004). Annika Sundén is a research associate at Boston College.

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Table of Contents

1 Introduction 1
2 A History of Bequests in the United States 33
Comments 53
3 The Role of Gift and Estate Transfers in the United States and in Europe 64
Comment 86
4 Bequests: By Accident or by Design? 93
Comments 118
5 Gifts and Bequests: Family or Philanthropic Organizations? 130
Comments 159
6 Private Transfers within the Family: Mothers, Fathers, Sons, and Daughters 168
Comments 197
7 Tax Consequences on Wealth Accumulation and Transfers of the Rich 213
Comments 249
8 The Impact of Defined Contribution Plans on Bequests 265
Comments 307
9 The Impact of Gifts and Bequests on Aggregate Saving and Capital Accumulation 319
Comments 336
10 The Impact of Gifts and Bequests on the Distribution of Wealth 345
Comments 378
References 389
Contributors 411
Index 413
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 15, 2003

    Great Resource

    A great compilation of research. Very informative. A must have for people planning to retire.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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