Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Paula Monopoli (Maryland) reviews the piece on Jotwell.
Inheritance is an extremely significant personal, familial, social, and legal phenomenon. Due to the significance of inheritance in wealth distribution and family relations, it is essential to uncover and discuss its gendered dimensions, which have benefited from surprisingly little empirical or legal attention. This article provides an updated state-of-the-art review of the limited available empirical data on women as legators and on women as heirs in different parts of the world. The review is based on 23 studies, including the original results from a study the author conducted on inheritance in Israel, which illuminates the reach of insights that can be drawn from an inheritance study that focuses on gender. The review shows a sharp dichotomy between the ongoing discrimination women experience in non-Western societies in relation to inheritance and the social reality in the West, in which inheritance is a rare economic space in which women enjoy privilege, power, and control. Although egalitarian inheritance laws have had a dramatic impact on women's representation in intestacy and their participation in will writing in the West, the data demonstrate that even in this part of the world, cultural patriarchal practices persist and limit women's inheritance rights and, accordingly, point to the importance of creating legal mechanisms that can counterbalance these practices. Moreover, the available data indicate the value of freedom of testation for women and the importance of ceasing to regard care as cause for suspicion in inheritance law, and instead viewing it as a practice deserving of reward. Finally, the article identifies the areas in which further research on gender and inheritance is warranted, hopefully spurring greater interest and developments in the field.