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Inheriting Property and Debt

Inheriting Property and Debt

From Family Security to Corporate Accumulation

(p.93) 4 Inheriting Property and Debt
Capitalism Takes Command
Elizabeth Blackmar
University of Chicago Press

This chapter examines the family as a possible alternative to land as a form of property, one that could bring order and stability. Although the transfer of wealth from one generation to the next was definitely motivated by an ethos of preservation antithetical to the liquidity, risks, and uncertainties of capitalist economy, distribution of the returns from the land’s sale replaced direct partitioning of land among heirs. Partible inheritance became more common after America gained independence, thus helping to advance republican goals of a wide distribution of property. Distribution proved to be a more equitable way of passing on family property. While this practice did not diminish the central importance of land, it gave rise to the measurement of land’s value in monetary terms. Family farms had a greater likelihood of carrying extra-family debts at the time of the householder’s death, resulting in complicated settlement of estates. Due to uncertainties and conflicts associated with the settling and administration of estates, the institution of real property as a foundation of family capitalism eroded in the nineteenth century.

Keywords:   family, land, inheritance, family property, family farms, debts, estates, real property, family capitalism, capitalism

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