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Someday All This Will Be Yours

Someday All This Will Be Yours

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    Someday All This Will Be Yours
    Book Description:

    Hartog tells the heartbreaking stories of how families fought over the work of caring for the elderly, and its compensation, in a time before pensions, Social Security, and nursing homes filled this gap. As an explosive economy drew the young away from home, we see how the elderly used promises of inheritance to keep children at their side.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-06263-4
    Subjects: History, Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[x])
  3. Introduction: Over the Hill
    (pp. 1-34)

    One morning in February 2000 I sat reading in the library of the University of California’s Boalt Hall Law School. I was in Berkeley because my nearly ninety-one-year-old mother lived in a retirement community in San Mateo, thirty miles away, on the other side of San Francisco Bay. I was on leave from teaching, and I had decided that it would be good to spend some extended time with my mother, more than the quick long weekend every other month that I had reluctantly devoted to her over the previous nine years. But I also knew that, over the whole...

  4. Part One Planning for Old Age

    • Chapter One Of Helplessness and Power
      (pp. 37-76)

      In 1849 James W. Davison was in his mid-sixties. He and his wife and a variety of other relations lived on a farm of approximately one hundred acres on the border between Middlesex and Monmouth counties in central New Jersey. By then he had given four older sons nearby farms of roughly similar size, although of somewhat lesser value. He had four daughters who still needed marriage “portions.” He was, so others portrayed him later on, no longer energetic, and he suffered from some kind of speech impediment (perhaps as a result of Parkinson’s or one or more small strokes,...

    • Chapter Two The Work of Promises
      (pp. 77-108)

      How did older people pursue the project of securing care for themselves using the tools of private law and testator’s freedom? What strategies and legal tools did they employ?¹

      We can imagine that older people often incorporated into their life plans what demographers and economists who study the less-developed world label as the old-age security motive. That is, they would have worked to produce as many children as a wife’s fertility (or sometimes several wives’ fertility) permitted. Many children (many hands) may or may not make light work, but in a world in which infant mortality was still a common...

    • Chapter Three Keeping Them Close
      (pp. 109-143)

      In 1895, when Frances Suchy was not yet ten, her mother died. Antonia and Albert Gedicks, her aunt and uncle, took her in, and from then on, she lived with them, at first in a house in Brooklyn. When Frances moved in with them, the Gedickses were childless German-speaking immigrants in their late thirties. Albert was a wigmaker at the firm of A. H. Simonson in New York City. Until 1902 or so, Antonia was a supervisor at J. C. Stratton’s cloak and suit factory.

      More than a quarter century later, Frances’s lawyer described her childhood in a petition to...

    • Chapter Four Things Fall Apart
      (pp. 144-166)

      From a younger person’s perspective, staying with or near and working for aging parents or other older people might have seemed a secure investment in the future. To repeat James Davison’s lawyer’s words, he had stayed because “he was making some provision for his own settlement in life . . . as well as discharging the duty of a son towards his parents.” At least by the time of litigation, many of the younger people looked back to missed opportunities: jobs and careers given up, land sales not undertaken, or marriages put off. They had chosen to forgo one or...

  5. Part Two Death and Lawyers

    • Chapter Five A Life Transformed
      (pp. 169-205)

      Old age, planned or unplanned, had ended. One or more adult children had stayed at home and lived and worked there (or on other nearby family property). They had paid attention to the elderly parents and perhaps given direct bodily care. Certainly they had heard promises.

      But now the old one, the property owner, was dead. What happened next?

      Sometimes, as in the Davison case, conflict had already occurred before death, conflict that led to an attempt to remove an adult child and family from the home and from any disposition of property.

      Sometimes, on the other hand, death revealed...

    • Chapter Six Compensations for Care
      (pp. 206-248)

      The lawyer asked again: What do you want?

      This time the client-to-be answered: I want to be paid for the work I did in caring for the demented or dirty or difficult or sick or demanding old person. That should be easy. Or at least, easier than asking for the land. Right? I worked. I cared. I should be paid for my time, for my trouble, for the years I have lost.

      What would that answer have meant for lawyers and clients living and working in early twentieth-century New Jersey?

      Everywhere in nineteenth-and early twentieth-century America adult children sued estates...

    • Chapter Seven Paid Work
      (pp. 249-266)

      Consider Jane Alice Bissett on the witness stand in 1892, testifying about her life as her father’s house keeper and eventually his caretaker:

      Q. Who clothed you? A. My father. Q. Did you spend any money for yourself? A. If I felt like it I would spend it for myself, and ask for it as a daughter would ask her father for money. Q. You always would get it? A. Not always; he did not always have it. . . . Q. You were there not in the capacity of house-keeper? A. I was there as house-keeper and daughter. Q....

  6. Epilogue
    (pp. 267-284)

    Over the course of the past half century, those of us in the Western world have witnessed extraordinary changes in the management, care, and financing of what is still crudely labeled “old age.” Older people live differently from the way they did in the early twentieth century. Moreover, it is at least possible, as some have suggested, that these changes herald a major discontinuity in human history.

    To write in broad and crude generalities: We and our parents and grandparents (not to mention our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren) live longer lives than previous generations. We also live healthier lives, although...

  7. Notes
    (pp. 287-342)
  8. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 343-346)
  9. Index
    (pp. 347-353)