Washington Law Review

Article

How Should Inheritance Law Remediate Inequality?

March 01, 2022 | 97 Wash. L. Rev. 61

Abstract: This Article argues that trusts and estates (“T&E”) should prioritize intergenerational economic mobility—the ability of children to move beyond the economic stations of their parents—above all other goals. The field’s traditional emphasis on testamentary freedom, or the freedom to distribute property in a will as one sees fit, fosters the stickiness of inequality. For wealthy settlors, dynasty trusts sequester assets from the nation’s system of taxation and stream of commerce. For low-income decedents, intestacy (i.e., the system of property distribution for a person who dies without a will) splinters property rights and inhibits their transfer, especially to nontraditional heirs.

Holistically, this Article argues that T&E should promote mean regression of the wealth distribution curve over time. This can be accomplished by loosening spending in ultrawealthy households and spurring savings and investment in low-income households.

T&E scholars are tackling inequality with greater urgency than ever before, yet basic questions remain. For instance, what do we mean by “inequality”? How can we remediate inequality? And what goals should we advance in redressing inequality? This Article contributes to these conversations by articulating a comprehensive framework for progressive inheritance law that redresses long-term inequality.
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