A practical and philosophical consideration of the moral dilemmas that arise during estate planning.
One’s last will is more than just a legal document—it’s also a skein of tangled ethical conundrums that raises profound philosophical questions about the scope of individual freedom, weighed against the demands of social justice. Author Dixon-Mueller (Population Policy and Women’s Rights, 1993, etc.) has written a concise but comprehensive guide to navigating these murky waters that considers the full range of stakeholders and competing principles. She begins by sketching a synoptic history of the very idea of inheritance, discussing its ancient iteration within the Roman Republic and its several permutations through the American Colonial period until today, showing how shifts in popular attitudes to inheritance were partly a function of changing social and moral norms. Then the author discusses broader issues of equity that pull the reader into the realm of political philosophy, pitting freedom against the collective needs of society and, by extension, interrogating the proper scope of state regulation. While she provides practical guidance regarding potentially challenging conversations about the way in which one bequeaths one’s property, she artfully dedicates much of the work to raising and refining, in almost a Socratic fashion, moral problems that might be easy to miss. For example, Dixon-Mueller sensitively discusses the difficulties posed by sentimental heirlooms and contradictory claims to them. Also, she discusses problems that arise when determining the proper timing of disbursement of property: what if one’s adult children could use that wealth now, well in advance of one’s passing? The entire work is laced with a kind of pragmatic optimism; although many of these puzzles may seem intractable, the author is confident that reasonable solutions can be found: “balances can be struck; that is part of the challenge.” Overall, this is a marvelously accessible book, which is remarkable given its philosophic depth and rigor.
A valuable resource crafted with intelligence and thoroughness.