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About the Project

Photo of mother and daughter.

Project Purpose:

To examine the meaning and experience of inheritance decisions from the perspective of older parents, adult children, and siblings.

This project addressed a complex and challenging normative later life decision situation that few elders and their family members escape, but which researchers and practitioners have typically ignored. Inheritance decision situations present complex social, emotional, legal, and economic dimensions of transitioning personal possessions and financial assets. Decisions about one's estate can be triggered by an elder moving to assisted living or other type of living arrangement, relocating to live closer to adult children, as well at death. Inheritance decisions can occur during one's lifetime (gifting) as well as after one's death.

Research Questions

We were interested in understanding how family members define and negotiate fairness and family relationships in regards to both financial assets and personal possession. Specifically, we hoped to learn:

Focus on Intergenerational Families

Photo of familty sitting outside.

We wanted to involve at least one older parent and two adult children in the same family as study participants. This would allow us to examine the meaning and experience of inheritance decisions from the perspective of parents/adult child and siblings in the same family. To the best of our knowledge, this study was the first in the United States to involve multiple family members in a study of fairness and inheritance decisions.

Building on Previous Research and Education: Who Gets Grandma's Yellow Pie Plate?™

Almost 20 years ago, we began to study family and inheritance decision making. Family members across Minnesota were asking for educational resources to help make informed decisions about inheritance, especially personal possessions. The current Family Inheritance Project will build on what was learned from research and education during the past 20 years. There are many remaining gaps in what is known about family relationships, fairness, and inheritance decision making.

Previous Work

Photo of two hands holding.

Given the lack of research and educational resources in the mid 1990's, we began by learning about the real-life experiences of family members, attorneys, and other professionals who help family members make inheritance decisions. We began by conducting qualitative research to learn about the decision-making issues confronting families when faced with personal property decisions and inheritance.

Our findings suggested six key factors that are important to successful property transfer decisions. A discussion of this research can be found in the Journal of Family and Economic Issues article by M. Stum, "Families and inheritance decisions: Examining non-titled property transfers" [2000 Summer, 21(2)].

Our research also provided in-depth insight into the meaning of "fairness." These findings helped us develop practical worksheets to help family members sort out the meaning of fair inheritance processes and outcomes. More about our research on fairness can be learned about in M. Stum 1999 article, "I just want to be fair: Interpersonal justice in intergenerational transfers of non-titled property,"[Family Relations, 48(2), 159-166].

Perhaps most importantly, what was learned about key factors and the meaning of fairness provided an essential research base to develop educational resources for family members and professionals working with families and inheritance issues. Who Gets Grandma's Yellow Pie Plate?™ educational resources include a workbook, DVD, educator guides, and free assessment tools and articles. These unique resources are used nationwide and have a proven record of helping family members make more informed decisions about personal possessions.

Visit the Who Gets Grandma's Yellow Pie Plate?™ to learn more about existing available resources.