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Abstract

Motives for Bequests within the Middle Class
by John P. Laitner and Amanda Sonnega
WP 2012-275
The life-cycle model of household behavior forms the basis for most economic analysis of Social Security, private pensions, and retirement. This project seeks to extend the usefulness of the life-cycle model by considering the role of middle-class inheritances and bequests. We use HRS data. Prior work by the authors identifies key information in the HRS on the sources of private intergenerational transfers, and it shows that the frequency of couples’ inheritances from both spouses’ family lines is higher than random behavior would imply. Using additional HRS data on the ratio of parent-to-child lifetime incomes, we analyze the motives behind HRS bequests. We find support for an unintentional transfer model in which bequests arise from residual, unspent parent life-cycle resources. And, we show that our model can account for the frequency of dual inheritances that earlier work revealed.
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