We all hope that we will get the care we need through our old age. But these days, Social Security, Medicare, pensions and retirement plans seem less of a sure thing. Economic uncertainty is putting new pressure on adults to take on the responsibility of caring for their parents. This trend brings to mind a time before social safety nets. A century or more ago, the elderly had to rely on family for support. But this wasn’t always done out of love or duty. Sometimes a promise of inheritance was on the line. A look at family dynamics and old-age care giving in decades past.

Guests

  • Hendrik Hartog professor of the History of American Law and Liberty at Princeton University.

Transcript

  • 11:06:54

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Princeton University Professor Hendrik Hartog researched cases involving inheritance and old age care from the 19th to the mid 20th century. He found these real stories fascinating and, he says, depressing. The cases draw attention to two characters within family law, the adult child and the elderly person.

  • 11:07:24

    MS. DIANE REHMThe book is titled "Someday All This Will Be Yours." Hendrik Hartog joins us in the studio and we'll take your calls, comments, questions throughout the hour. Good morning to you sir.

  • 11:07:42

    PROFESSOR HENDRIK HARTOGGood morning, thank you for having me.

  • 11:07:44

    REHMIt's good to have you here. You talked about these stories as deeply depressing, tell me why.

  • 11:07:56

    HARTOGIn part because we have a picture of the family of a kind of romance in which families work together organically, naturally without conflict, that we assume conflict exists elsewhere. And in fact, my cases, the work that I did, showed both a lot of conflict which was inevitable in a legal, with a legal study, but also the ways in which family members had to negotiate with each other constantly about things that often they felt didn't -- shouldn't have had to be negotiated around.

  • 11:08:37

    REHMTell me the years you were looking at.

  • 11:08:43

    HARTOGI looked basically over a century of material from the middle of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th century. What I sometimes have called it is the generations before social security and pensions.

  • 11:08:56

    REHMAnd thinking about that generation, I mean, I agree with you. Many of us tend to romanticize that era and to say, well, granny lived with us and we took such good care of her and all was well and you found that not to be so.

  • 11:09:23

    HARTOGYou know, there obviously were many cases where care was given, it worked, property was transferred, there wouldn't have been conflict. But there were inherent tensions in a privatistic system without the kind of social networks and social safety net that we assume today. In part, younger people didn't --were very like younger people today. They didn't plan to stay home and care for granny. That's something that was thrust upon them.

  • 11:10:04

    HARTOGThere's a phrase in French sociology, they were trapped in and they felt trapped. Now obviously, there were choices made. They made decisions. There were calculations. There was a rational decision made, but it wasn't the life that people expected to live.

  • 11:10:29

    REHMNow, how is that so different from what happens today?

  • 11:10:35

    HARTOGI've struggled back and forth with that question and I think my book is actually quite ambivalent on the question. In so many ways, what we think of as old age has changed dramatically. It has changed because there's a thick world of public and private institutions today that serve the old. There is a global migratory army of care workers who are mostly paid. They're underpaid deeply, but they are paid for their work.

  • 11:11:09

    HARTOGThere are -- and we live much longer and we live with conditions which would have killed people over the century that I looked at. And in all those, and the service of the elderly includes the creation of communities for the elderly. I mean, the State of Florida, the State of Arizona, large communities are actually organized around serving the elderly. And what that means, which we don't typically, say is serving the elderly where their children aren't or where children are living somewhere else in most cases.

  • 11:11:49

    HARTOGAnd so in those ways, that seems very dramatically different from the world I explored, which is a world in which the only care that was conceivable for middleclass people was family care. If you didn't have children available, you created children. You adopted informally or formally. You turned your housekeeper into a daughter of sorts. I mean, people substituted, in many ways, but you needed family care because there wasn't this structure of...

  • 11:12:25

    REHMNursing homes and that sort of thing.

  • 11:12:27

    HARTOG...nursing homes. Now, so in all those ways I have often written about it and talked about it as if this world was -- is a lost world. It's dramatically different. Every time I've talked about this in public, everybody wants to tell me their stories about how it's just the same today. And I've had -- I've wanted to take those stories seriously so for all -- many people do, many family members do, do homecare.

  • 11:12:59

    REHMOf course.

  • 11:12:59

    HARTOGAnd when -- and they do it in many different ways. Some of what they do which is different, is manage and negotiate the terms of the public and private institutions that provide intimate care. So they hire people. They deal with pension funds. They deal with insurance companies. They deal with hospital systems and home healthcare workers. So some of that is a kind of negotiation which is very much a modern phenomenon which is different than what I would have found.

  • 11:13:36

    HARTOGBut as, you know, people keep telling me, a lot of people are doing the kind of care that I don't think -- now I still think it's different because the notion of insurance, excuse me, of inheritance has changed dramatically.

  • 11:13:51

    REHMAnd that's where the whole question of family law comes in because you start, for example, you start your book with a case that really, really struck you back in 1924. Tell us about that.

  • 11:14:08

    HARTOGWell, in that case, you know, an elderly woman, she'd had two daughters. There was a nephew who had lived around the house who had done odd jobs for her and at some point, she said to him, if you stay and take care of me in my old age, I will give you the house when I die.

  • 11:14:36

    HARTOGHe stayed, he cared. He took care of her and then sometime shortly before she died, either her daughters convinced her or she changed her mind and she re-wrote her will to exclude him from the will, which is why the case appears in my records. But, you know, she had, in a sense, looking to a nephew, assuming that her daughters were willing, was what she had available and inheritance was the only -- was the currency for providing care in that world. It was how family members negotiated. It was what...

  • 11:15:13

    REHMThey bargained.

  • 11:15:14

    HARTOG...bargained around inheritance...

  • 11:15:18

    REHMAnd sometimes did not come through?

  • 11:15:20

    HARTOGNo, that's right. And part of the problem from the perspective of the younger person is that the structure of the law creates this very strong, what's called, testator's freedom. It basically -- all of us are free to give our property to whomever we choose until the day we die and we can keep changing our mind until the day we die so that from the perspective of the younger person, they could be excluded even at the very last moment.

  • 11:15:56

    REHMSo what happened to the nephew in that case?

  • 11:16:06

    HARTOGIn a sense, the existence of those cases makes my project possible because when a child was excluded, the only way he or she -- and usually it's more often she than he, could win would be by building a very strong case about the work they'd actually done so that the case records become full with a kind of intimate detail about family work and family care that's impossible to find anywhere else. So you have a kind of almost novelistic detail about how people took care of each other.

  • 11:16:43

    REHMI know that you started thinking about these issues when you were visiting your own mother in a retirement community. How did that affect your thinking about this book?

  • 11:17:00

    HARTOGI was constantly struck with how different my situation was. Now, I don't want to universalize my situation because many people find themselves, but that I would fly in often. I spent an enormous amount of time hiring care workers especially in her last period. I talked to the retirement community all the time. I talked to her. I called all the time, but I was 3,000 miles away so I was, you know, I was a modern caretaker, not -- nothing like the kind of intimate care.

  • 11:17:43

    HARTOGI can give you one anecdote, which is shortly before my mother died, she lost control of her bodily functions. And there was a very nice Guatemalan woman who was -- had been there all night taking care of her and I came in. I had flown in late at night, I think, and I came in early in the morning and she said, do you want to clean your mother? And I remember my sense that my mother wouldn't have wanted it and I found it very difficult to even imagine doing it.

  • 11:18:22

    HARTOGAnd at the same time, I was just beginning to read so many stories about children and parents who were put in exactly that position.

  • 11:18:32

    REHMHendrik Hartog, his new book titled "Someday All This Will Be Yours: A History of Inheritance and Old Age."

  • 11:20:04

    REHMAnd if you've just joined us, Hendrik Hartog, who's professor of history at the American Law and Liberty at Princeton University, joins us. He's written a new book titled "Some Day All This Will Be Yours: A History of Inheritance and Old Age." And I must tell you, Professor Hartog, we've had lots of emails saying what happened to the nephew when he was cut out of the will?

  • 11:20:42

    HARTOGHe won. He got the house in the end.

  • 11:20:45

    REHMHow?

  • 11:20:46

    HARTOGThe -- actually, I can only give a partial answer because I -- the case is very -- there isn't a great deal of description in the case. But the courts thought that he had done all the work that he'd promised, that in a sense a contract had been completed. And that, you know, she'd made an offer, he'd accepted the offer, he had done...

  • 11:21:14

    REHMIt was all verbal.

  • 11:21:15

    HARTOGYeah, it was all verbal. That was the difficulty.

  • 11:21:17

    REHMYeah.

  • 11:21:17

    HARTOGAnd that's the difficulty that these are always oral contracts within the family.

  • 11:21:22

    REHMAlways oral contracts. So are you, by virtue of using that as an example, saying to people out there, you know what, if you're gonna do this, whether you're a child, whether you're a nephew, whether you're a caregiver, you need a written contract.

  • 11:21:53

    HARTOGI'm a historian. I'm going to punt on this. I'm a historian not a therapist or an advisor or a financial planner. In general, we all should write down most of our contracts. I say this as a lawyer. But on the other hand, people lived in a very different world because most older people will consume their inheritance in their old age today except for the very rich. Inheritance is not, in a sense, a bargaining chip anymore.

  • 11:22:32

    REHMAnymore. Because it's so expensive to take care...

  • 11:22:35

    HARTOGIt's expensive because healthcare, because the world of consumption in which we live, makes inheritance much less meaningful than it was, even in 1924.

  • 11:22:47

    REHMBut how did then the elderly induce people to take care of the...

  • 11:22:54

    HARTOGI spent the first large part of the book exploring that. And inevitably, it's a speculation. But people were concerned with what I called the King Lear dilemma. In a sense, the problem of King Lear begins with King Lear giving away his property. And as a result, he's at the mercy of his two evil elder daughters. And that's the central problem that sets the plot of King Lear in motion. And it's a plot that would've been very, very well known to everybody living in the 19th and early 20th century.

  • 11:23:34

    HARTOGMy sense is that the older people worked very hard not to be placed in King Lear's situation. So they wanted to retain property. They wanted to retain the control in a private world where there aren't social -- isn't social insurance. They wanted to retain the only control they had, which was typically their house, the farm, the shop, the property they had accumulated. But on the other hand, they faced the dilemma of how do you convince children to come, if you don't give them anything.

  • 11:24:13

    HARTOGSo they had to make -- so when I read these transcripts, I see the pages live -- I mean, I can imagine the oral testimony is just littered with constant description of promises. The language of promises mobilized constantly. So there was good reason, from the older person's perspective, not to write it down. Because once you've written it down, then you've lost a certain level of control or power over the situation. On the other hand, you have to keep somebody close at hand and how to keep caregivers close.

  • 11:24:50

    HARTOGSo it's a kind of game that was played of how -- of keeping people close, making promises. I have -- I can remember one case where, you know, an elderly woman, her daughter's husband has just died, and she says, at this point, I want to go get a job. This is the 1880s. I want to go get a job. And she says to her, don't do that. Come live and take care of me and you will profit later on. Now, she doesn't in the end. The daughter doesn't get it, but she -- but clearly this is part of the kind of typical language of care.

  • 11:25:28

    HARTOGOlder people are saying to everybody all the time, it's going to be Joe's property. It's going to be Josephine's property. It's going to be hers. She's going to get this in the end. They're making this language -- they're talking the talk of conveyance without doing it.

  • 11:25:47

    REHMAnd of course, now the advice to all elderly people for the most part is, don't turn over your property. Do write down a will.

  • 11:26:00

    HARTOGThat's right.

  • 11:26:01

    REHMMake sure you have expressly stated what you want and what you expect to happen after you're dead. One is still left -- and you read all kinds of advice columns. One is still left with one person, for example, in a sandwiched generation, usually a woman, who is taking care of young children and also faced with taking care of parents.

  • 11:26:34

    HARTOGIt is a repeated and continuing story. And they are typically doing it without the promise of an inheritance today where -- so that in some ways, one might say people today are -- those people who are placed in that position of caregivers are in an even weaker position than they were, you know, two or three generations ago.

  • 11:27:04

    REHMOn the other hand, we assume they're somewhat smarter about how they're going to accomplish what they need to accomplish in terms of being cared for.

  • 11:27:18

    HARTOGYeah, I mean, one of the ways in which the past and the present really are joined together is I never got a sense reading, you know, sort of incredibly large number of materials and testimony, that younger people chose caregiving as a life choice.

  • 11:27:44

    REHMSure.

  • 11:27:45

    HARTOGIt's something that was more or less thrust upon them. And that was true then and that's true now.

  • 11:27:50

    REHMAnd the other thing that I think is more true now is that people in my generation are saying, the last thing in the world I want to do is to be a burden to my children.

  • 11:28:07

    HARTOGAbsolutely. And there's a variety of ways -- I mean, one of the sort of semi-legal ways is that some older people put their assets into their children's hands in order for them to be eligible for Medicare and Medicaid and other resources. But I think the general -- but you're absolutely right. The general cultural expectation is that older people don't want to be dependent on their children.

  • 11:28:38

    HARTOGI'm not sure that was different then. I'm not sure that there wasn't enormous ambivalence about all of these strategies. It's part of the anger that I see that wells up in these cases all the time, I think may have been the result of a kind of ambivalence about who was -- who you were turning over control to.

  • 11:29:00

    REHMIn your book, the courts seems to pay lots of attention to promises, but people make promises all the time. They change their minds. How did the courts work these out generally speaking?

  • 11:29:17

    HARTOGThrough a kind of complicated, I don't know what to call it, gestalt, you know, sort of fuzzy mess, I mean, I think through conventional understandings they had of the world. These were deeply gendered understandings. A daughter who stayed home to take care and gave up marriage was understood as doing what some daughters did. A son -- and therefore she might not, in the court's eye, get compensation.

  • 11:29:49

    REHMBecause that's what daughters did.

  • 11:29:50

    HARTOGDid and so there wasn't a -- there was no evidence in her work. Her work didn't prove that she had -- that there was a promise underlying it.

  • 11:30:03

    REHMHow often were sons drawn into that?

  • 11:30:07

    HARTOGOften. Though, in part, because it might be about a boardinghouse or a shop or a farm as much as about anything else. And I should add, the other thing about sons is that sons brought wives along with them and so part of the story about sons may be that daughters-in-law -- it isn't maybe. I know this is the case, that daughters-in-law were the ones who then did the intimate care work, not the sons.

  • 11:30:39

    HARTOGBut sons were more likely, within the sort of judge's vision of the world, were more likely to win their cases than daughters were because a son could say, I gave up a trade to come to the farm or come to the shop. I gave up a work life. And so there's a kind of foregone opportunity. There's a kind of -- the world of the son, it looks to the courts as if the son's made a bargain by the very fact of their presence.

  • 11:31:14

    REHMIt's a patriarchal society.

  • 11:31:15

    HARTOGYeah, absolutely, absolutely.

  • 11:31:17

    REHMThe nature of these arguments gets very cold, gets very brutal.

  • 11:31:27

    HARTOGYeah, it...

  • 11:31:27

    REHMIt's not pleasant.

  • 11:31:29

    HARTOGThat is exactly why I found it dark to deal with. I do want...

  • 11:31:33

    REHMAny family's situation is probably dark to deal with.

  • 11:31:40

    HARTOGI think -- I'm sure you're right. I do think -- one of the things I noticed is that everybody, including the sons, lived in at least two moral worlds. So it was never easy. But that is they certainly -- when they came into court, they presented themselves as canny smart contractors who had made a bargain with their parents. And now, the parents or the parents' estate had to pay up on this bargain so they could sound like tough negotiators.

  • 11:32:15

    HARTOGBut if you read the testimony, they're also sons who were doing for their parents what was done for them, who felt duty, who felt obligation, who felt love. And so you had love -- you have these sort of dueling normative worlds that played through the material all the time.

  • 11:32:35

    REHMThe book is titled "Some Day All This Will be Yours." Hendrik Hartog is a professor of the History of American Law and Liberty at Princeton University. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." You know, I find myself wondering why you wrote this book. Who are you writing it for? Are you writing it as a cautionary tale? Are you writing it so people will understand the importance of direct statements, written wills? Why are you writing this?

  • 11:33:23

    HARTOGTo be honest, I wrote it because I was totally absorbed by the stories that I found. So this is probably not the answer you wanted, which is that I didn't have a normative or a moral lesson. I fell -- for a variety of reasons, I found this body of case material, which were mind-bogglingly rich, about the details of family work and how people engaged with each other within families.

  • 11:33:58

    HARTOGSo -- and it was about ordinary people, that is my cases are middling. They -- you have to have some property to appear. But in some cases, the property may be worth $500. And then you have a 700-page transcript of testimony about who did what work, how they did work, how they talked to each other about the work they did. So I was just seduced by my sources and by the problem of how to write about that. That's probably not the answer -- I mean, so that -- I came to the normative how is -- what advice for the present very late.

  • 11:34:40

    REHMAll right. Let's open the phones now. We'll go first to Sally in Plainwell, Mich. Good morning, you're on the air.

  • 11:34:51

    SALLYGood morning, Diane. Thank you, Dr. Hartog. Your book sounds wonderful. Excuse me.

  • 11:34:57

    HARTOGThank you.

  • 11:34:58

    SALLYI'm going back to your 1924 target date and I'm old enough to remember in my childhood, people who were widows and widowers who were born before 1900, as was my father. My father was a country doctor. My grandfather was a country doctor. I grew up in Vermont in a small town. And I think that we need to look at how socially the world has changed for us. At the time that I was growing up, there were widows from the Civil War. There were widows from World War I. And there were residences specifically for these people.

  • 11:35:40

    SALLYAt that time, we had a very strong community structure. People cared for each other. And women didn't get out in the workforce. They stayed home. They raised families. It was kind of a given that an elderly parent would come live with that daughter in her home. On the other end of the spectrum, it's a brutal end, we've had mental hospitals and institutions where unfortunately a lot of innocent people went and spent the rest of their lives. And I just wanted to thank you for your book. I look forward to reading it. And it's a different world today than it was then.

  • 11:36:24

    REHMSurely it is.

  • 11:36:27

    HARTOGThank you. You know, I agree with every -- your picture is accurate in many, many ways. The one thing that I did notice, and it may be an artifact of my material, is that older people didn't want to move in with younger people. They did sometimes and typically if there was no property, that was the central -- that was the usual option. But the hope was that you would get somebody to move in with you rather than children to -- rather than having to move in with your children.

  • 11:37:03

    REHMBut just think about the architecture today, building on an in-law's room or something of that sort, totally different today.

  • 11:37:13

    HARTOGAbsolutely. It is really -- this, again, gets to sort of how does one compare the past and the present. And it's a very complicated question.

  • 11:37:24

    REHMHendrik Hartog, "Some Day All This Will Be Yours." That's the title of his new book all about the history of inheritance and old age. 800-433-8850. Do join us.

  • 11:40:05

    REHMAnd welcome back. We go right back to the phones to Birmingham, Ala. Good morning, Rob, thanks for joining us. Go right ahead.

  • 11:40:16

    ROBGood morning, Diane, thank you so much. I really enjoy your show.

  • 11:40:20

    REHMI'm so glad.

  • 11:40:21

    ROBThank you, doctor, for your book. I'm going to get it for my dad and read it. What I was going to say is that I deal with this every day with my grandfather and he's the only remaining grandparent I have. And he has lost many of his bodily functions so my dad and I do help clean him. My parents have a middle class, you know, retirement, but they have to balance, you know, their needs. They're in their late 60s with my grandfather.

  • 11:40:51

    ROBMy uncles are not in a position to help financially and my granddad's retirement from (unintelligible), you know, only (unintelligible) to basically have somebody very low priced, you know, to help full time or else to have occasional assistance. And we did find a great caretaker, but it was very difficult. I'd say my dad, some weeks, you know, dealing with the medical and the health issues (unintelligible) hours, you know, and some of my family, you know, do not want -- they are not comfortable bathing my grandfather and doing these things.

  • 11:41:30

    ROBBut I found it's grown us much closer and I really feel for people that are not in a position financially when they get to these situations to have help.

  • 11:41:41

    REHMExactly. I mean, the financial cost of caring for the elderly is just getting more and more out of hand.

  • 11:41:51

    DR. HENDRIK HARTOGAbsolutely.

  • 11:41:52

    ROB(unintelligible) with a limited budget.

  • 11:41:57

    HARTOGIt's -- I admire what you're doing. It's -- we live in a world which has commodified these relations and made them incredibly expensive. You know, this a consequence of an enormously bloated health care system, but it has, you know, it has structured our lives in all sorts of ways and we really can't escape -- we can't fantasize our way back to a simpler world.

  • 11:42:27

    REHMAll right, to Anastasia in Roanoke, Va., good morning.

  • 11:42:33

    ANASTASIAGood morning. Thank you for taking my call.

  • 11:42:36

    REHMYou're welcome.

  • 11:42:37

    ANASTASIAI just wanted to share my story. I have a brother who lives in the same town as I do and I have two siblings that don't live here. And my mother lives in this town with us and about four years ago, she lost a leg to vascular disease.

  • 11:42:54

    REHMAhh.

  • 11:42:54

    HARTOGWow.

  • 11:42:55

    ANASTASIAAnd we are all in the middle, like, we're all in our 30s and 40s. We have young children. We have jobs. I'm a single parent and we, basically, you know, the two of us that live near her do most of it and the two that don't live here, you know, don't do a lot, but there is no promise of money, there's no promise of anything. We just do it out of pure obligation and, you know, it's -- I've heard that phrase, the sandwich generation, which is (unintelligible) exactly what we're in.

  • 11:43:26

    REHMSure.

  • 11:43:27

    ANASTASIAAnd it's one of the hardest things I've ever had to go through because she isn't in a wheelchair. She, you know, has problems with her bodily functions. We do not have a lot of money and my siblings we've always gotten along, but since this happened is the first time we've had arguments and fights. And you can see how families can get, you know, destroyed by things like this.

  • 11:43:49

    HARTOGOh, absolutely. It's just a very difficult situation. I mean, existentially and practically and in terms of ordinary life, it's just very, very difficult.

  • 11:43:58

    REHMIn terms of the law and the cases you examined, did you begin to see siblings fighting with each other?

  • 11:44:09

    HARTOGSiblings are the central source of conflict in the cases because they are the ones who either profited because the will wasn't written -- that is the classic situation is one child is chosen for the house or to get the property or get the store because they're willing to stay at home while the others go away -- while the others have moved away. And then after -- when the unwritten will or the unwritten promise comes into litigation, it's the siblings who lead the charge.

  • 11:44:50

    HARTOGThe other side of the story, which is the siblings who -- is where the child did get the property after years of care, but then children -- the siblings go to court and say undue influence or say, basically, that the older person lost their capacity to make a decision and became under the power of the younger person and, therefore, gave the property. So siblings are the disruptive force.

  • 11:45:27

    REHMOf course, you look at a case such as that of Leona Helmsley, who left everything to her dog.

  • 11:45:35

    HARTOGYeah, I know.

  • 11:45:35

    REHMI mean, millions of dollars to her dog.

  • 11:45:38

    HARTOGYeah, yeah.

  • 11:45:39

    REHMLet's go to Jeff in Austin, Texas. Good morning, you're on the air.

  • 11:45:45

    JEFFThank you so much, Diane. This is a wonderful show and very personal. I'm particularly curious about significant inheritances and maybe all inheritances are significant, but in the case of large ones -- large financial inheritances, it seems like there's a perverse quality about them where there's almost a lottery at the person's death.

  • 11:46:12

    HARTOGYeah.

  • 11:46:13

    JEFFA lottery award. And I can tell you as the child of a very successful business person, it creates in me a dynamic that I don't like very much. I don't like the thought that I benefit in a big way from, you know, the death of my parents. And I'm curious, you know, doctor, in your work, how other, you know, people have experienced that.

  • 11:46:39

    HARTOGI don't have a terribly sophisticated answer, but let me give you two thoughts about that. One is, for the most part, the particular care given situations that I have explored and that, I think, continue today don't reach to the very wealthy who buy servants or buy employees -- who buy the care, they don't look to the same degree to family members. The other thing is that we've gone through a really dramatic transformation of what we mean by inheritance.

  • 11:47:20

    HARTOGAnd this is somebody else's -- somebody should write a book about it. Maybe I will, but somebody should write a book about how our cultural understanding of inheritance has changed. It's emblazoned in the tax system which calls inheritance unearned wealth, that is it is unearned. Now nothing was less unearned than the people I studied. They earned their inheritance through their work, but I suspect that for many people today, the ambivalence about inheritance is, in part, because we carry a kind of cultural sense that inheritances are unearned.

  • 11:48:03

    HARTOGNow, you might tell me I'm wrong, but that's my sense. I'm curious what you think.

  • 11:48:07

    REHMWell, I'm not going to offer my opinion on the tax structure at this point, but Jackie emails us from New Jersey saying, "In our family, the property was signed over to the caregiver with life estate rights for the person in need of care. We've done this for at least four generations. I took care of three of my great aunts in this manner. I'm 66 and African American. We almost always lived and still do live in multi-generational extended family arrangements." She raises really an important issue and that is whether, through that generational transfer, there is somehow more of it within an African American community than otherwise.

  • 11:49:16

    HARTOGThis has been a complicated question that I've struggled with and I admire the sort of capacity of particular people, African Americans, Asian Americans, to maintain kind of generational continuity...

  • 11:49:31

    REHMLatin Americans, as well.

  • 11:49:32

    HARTOGAnd work relations.

  • 11:49:34

    REHMYeah.

  • 11:49:35

    HARTOGAnd it is striking to me how -- again, when I get hands raised after I've given a talk about this and people all say, you know, in my community, no, it's different. There is, within the American legal culture, a kind of -- or within the American political economy over 200 years, a kind of deep pressure towards individualization of property, towards mobility on the part of the next generation of children, towards the sort of sense of freedom, what one calls testator's freedom, of the property holder to make choices that they want to make.

  • 11:50:28

    HARTOGAnd that cuts against -- may cut against these kinds of community and ethnic and historical patterns of generational continuity and how old people were cared for in many different cultural contexts. But it's a very -- but in a sense, it's always on the one hand this and on the other hand that. I admire the caller's family for having been able to maintain these kinds of structures.

  • 11:51:02

    REHMAll right. To Baltimore, Md., good morning, Meredith.

  • 11:51:08

    MEREDITHHi, yes, thank you for taking my call. You've touched on this already a little bit, but I was wondering -- I know that French countries have different traditions when it comes to the esteem that, you know, their elders are given and I was wondering what difference different cultural traditions made, you know, how different ethnicities were, you know, were treating the issue of inheritance in your work.

  • 11:51:42

    HARTOGTo be honest, you know, I looked at 120 years of cases in New Jersey, which is a very diverse ethnic environment. And I saw both significant variation and I also saw the recurrent pattern of the problem of the individual elderly person having to find some child who would care and not being certain who would do it. And that was true in all sorts of communities so, on the one hand, you're absolutely right. And in many legal cultures, say, the children will get before death -- there will be a conveyance of the property to, say, to all the sons who will then have to negotiate among themselves who does the actual...

  • 11:52:40

    REHMAnd that came out of English law -- straight out of it.

  • 11:52:43

    HARTOGYeah, so you can have lots of variations and there are many different cultural stories and European social historians have tracked many of them. But it is -- but I also still would insist that the pattern of the dynamic of the conflict ridden problem of how to find in a mobile, capitalist society a child who will stay to care for you in old age was a recurrent one throughout the society when there was no other social safety net.

  • 11:53:15

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go now to Allen Park, Mich. Good morning, Carla, thanks for joining us.

  • 11:53:28

    CARLAGood morning, Diane, I have two comments. One is that a few years ago, I discovered that an ancestor of mine in the 1730s or 1740s had indentured herself and her unmarried daughter to her oldest son who had inherited the bulk of the father's property and I found that so interesting. And, secondly, you know, in our current political climate, these problems are much more -- and also the health industry, the problems are much more complicated than they were when Social Security went into effect.

  • 11:54:09

    CARLAI still remember my grandmother saying she was so happy that she did not want to be a burden to anyone in her old age and so she was happy to be independent. And that was -- she was born in 1878 so she had lived with other possibilities.

  • 11:54:28

    HARTOGYou're absolutely right. I mean, I think your grandmother was absolutely right and it was a godsend. I think people were happy to socialize -- to shift to others the kind of financial -- the kind of bargaining which had typically occurred within families. It is very, very complicated today because there because people move through so many institutions because there is such a kind of commodification of old age. Is it more complicated than it was for people in the past? I'm not sure.

  • 11:55:05

    REHMAnd what about the field of elder law, that has certainly expanded.

  • 11:55:10

    HARTOGYes, it is just beginning. I mean that is a field which is just in its early stages. It's growing enormously as my generation gets older and enters into the subject, but it deals with many questions. I mean, one of the questions is the abuse of the elderly. We have a growing gerontological industry and a (word?) of knowledge. It is striking to me that both elder care and gerontology, as a discipline, is organized around the notion of the individual elderly person or the individual or coupled elderly person wanting to live on their own. And how can they live on their own so that has become the sort of central goal of a successful...

  • 11:56:08

    REHMIndeed. We started this program talking about your mother. Do you have siblings?

  • 11:56:18

    HARTOGI have a brother.

  • 11:56:20

    REHMWas he as actively participating?

  • 11:56:23

    HARTOGNo, he was -- I think he's probably listening so -- he lives in The Netherlands and he had moved to The Netherlands so that he wasn't as present until just shortly before my mother died.

  • 11:56:36

    REHMI see. And how long ago was that?

  • 11:56:39

    HARTOGIt's a decade ago. Well, she died in early 2003.

  • 11:56:43

    REHMDid her death affect your relationship?

  • 11:56:48

    HARTOGI think, to be honest, it brought us -- it made us realize that we only have each other.

  • 11:56:55

    REHMI'm glad.

  • 11:56:56

    HARTOGYes.

  • 11:56:57

    REHMI'm glad. Hendrik Hartog, the book is titled, "Someday All This Will Be Yours," a history of inheritance and old age. Thank you so much.

  • 11:57:10

    HARTOGThank you very much for having me.

  • 11:57:12

    REHMAnd thanks for listening all, I'm Diane Rehm.

  • 11:57:16

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