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Someday All This Will Be Yours: A History of Inheritance and Old Age [Hardcover]

Hendrik Hartog

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Book Description

Feb. 14 2012

We all hope that we will be cared for as we age. But the details of that care, for caretaker and recipient alike, raise some of life’s most vexing questions. From the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century, as an explosive economy and shifting social opportunities drew the young away from home, the elderly used promises of inheritance to keep children at their side. Hendrik Hartog tells the riveting, heartbreaking stories of how families fought over the work of care and its compensation.

Someday All This Will Be Yours narrates the legal and emotional strategies mobilized by older people, and explores the ambivalences of family members as they struggled with expectations of love and duty. Court cases offer an extraordinary glimpse of the mundane, painful, and intimate predicaments of family life. They reveal what it meant to be old without the pensions, Social Security, and nursing homes that now do much of the work of serving the elderly. From demented grandparents to fickle fathers, from litigious sons to grateful daughters, Hartog guides us into a world of disputed promises and broken hearts, and helps us feel the terrible tangle of love and commitments and money.

From one of the bedrocks of the human condition—the tension between the infirmities of the elderly and the longings of the young—emerges a pioneering work of exploration into the darker recesses of family life. Ultimately, Hartog forces us to reflect on what we owe and are owed as members of a family.



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Review

In this gem of a book, Hartog reveals the human drama of growing old and dependent, and the enduring dilemma in mixing love and economic need. (Martha Minow, Dean, Harvard Law School)

Hartog brilliantly illuminates the central role that law has played in shaping Americans' ideas about getting old. Poignant, funny, and analytically razor-sharp, this is a groundbreaking book. (Dylan Penningroth, author of The Claims of Kinfolk: African American Property and Community in the Nineteenth-Century South)

With empathy and captivating style, Hartog, a superb historian, offers a memorable analysis of changing family struggles over inheritance and care. (Viviana A. Zelizer, author of Economic Lives: How Culture Shapes the Economy)

This is a disturbing book, in the best sense--a transformative book. With unique sensitivity and ingenuity, Hartog tells a profound story about the meaning of inheritance and what one owes and is owed as a member of a family, making brilliant history of seemingly eternal human predicaments. (Amy Dru Stanley, author of From Bondage to Contract: Wage Labor, Marriage, and the Market in the Age of Slave Emancipation)

A page-turner with Dickensian overtones. (Fred A Bernstein New York Times blog 2012-02-15)

Aside from the history of development in this area of law, the book offers a social and cultural history of families caring for their elder members. This book will be of interest not only to those interested in estate law but also students and researchers of gerontology. (C. Ross Choice 2012-07-01)

About the Author

Hendrik Hartog is Class of 1921 Bicentennial Professor in the History of American Law and Liberty at Princeton University.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.5 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best new book I've read this year June 27 2012
By Carla C. Keirns - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a brilliant analysis of the experience of old age caregiving for parents and children as the agrarian 19th century turned into the industrial 20th (circa 1840 to 1940), and families began to face longer life expectancies without the social safety nets of pensions, Social Security, nursing homes, Medicare and Medicaid.

While some may see that era of private provision for one's old age as a lost period of love and rectitude, Hartog paints a compelling but much darker picture. Though his sources center on 200 cases of contested inheritances for the details of how families negotiated old age care in the decades before and after the Civil war (most of the material is circa 1840 to 1910), he places these family dramas in social and legal context and captures an extraordinary amount of detail about how daughters and sons reordered their life plans to care for aging parents and parents used both love and property to lure them to do so.

Who won and who lost, and the fraught bargains and harsh choices both the young and old faced does not minimize the challenges faced by caregivers today, but makes a compelling case for the social supports we have created for the elderly, and the ways that they free the young to pursue their own lives (even if the middle aged must often return home to manage that care).

As one of the leading historians of law in the United States and no stranger to family law (his last book was on marriage). Hartog's analysis of the implications of property law doctrines for how families would arrange their lives explains much about what is the same, and what is very different, from the world faced by our great-great grandparents when they looked to their final years. It also explained to me why in old movies and novels the lawyer was always called to the deathbed to change the will, besides the usual trope in them about the new wife or conniving relatives.

I practice palliative medicine. Legal issues continue to arise at the end of life today: living wills and health care proxies to specify medical wishes and decisionmakers, wills, guardianship of minor children, distribution of property, provision for those left behind, and the rather newer legal practice of arranging trusts to take advantage of Medicaid and preserve family assets to list only the most common. Families continue to face incredible challenges in financing, providing, and managing care, particularly the expectations placed on daughters and the mismatch between those expectations and careers for women when housing costs make it difficult for one income to support a family, and more women have become the primary breadwinners for their families. All of this seems new and overwhelming -- and overwhelming it is -- but as Hartog shows, new, it is not.
0 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing June 23 2012
By Kathy Edens - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I admit that I didn't read the sub-title when I chose to purchase this book so perhaps I deserve to be disappointed. This book is truely a history of inheritance rather than case study of modern estate and inheritance practices. The cases cited are from the mid-1800s so have little value to estate and inheritance law today. A book that I enjoyed titled From the Grave is much more relevant and fun to read.

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