Inheritance refers to passing on property, titles, debts, and obligations on the death of an individual. The concept has been well studied by many scholars and in many cultures. In agrarian societies, the rules surrounding gifts, inheritance, and bequests defined kinship and status and in large part determined the boundaries of family and community. Rights to inheritance reflected one’s position in the social and family hierarchy. This entry discusses the meaning and influence of inheritance as well as the future of inheritance.

In a broader sense, inheritance—whether it occurs following the donor’s death in the form of a bequest or during the donor’s lifetime as an inter vivos financial transfer—contributes to the intergenerational transfer of wealth. A major distinction between the two concepts is the timing ...

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