New Book on Elder Law Through the Ages: “Someday All of This Will Be Yours”

Laws change. Elder law and estate planning strategies change. But the basic principles surrounding inheritance planning, disability planning, and preparing for one’s golden years have been around for centuries. In a soon to be released book from Harvard University Press entitled Someday All of This Will be Yours: A History of Inheritance and Old Age, author Dick Hartog takes a look at some of those timeless principles that have involved elder law and estate planning over the years.

A recent book review summarized the text by noting that Hartog (a legal historian) examines how “ordinary men and woman arranged for their own care as they aged, and then how their alleged caretakers attempted to use the law to make good on these arrangements.” Of course our New York elder law attorneys are immediately drawn to these sorts of topics as helping local families make these arrangements is a large part of our practice today. The new Hartog book looks at dozens of elder law cases over the years and “closely, carefully, and painstakingly examines these cases for what they show about changing patterns in care for the elderly, parent-child relations, [and] the tensions between family and commodification.” The book discusses how these issues have changed or not changed over the years.

While the principles have likely remained unchanged the strategies to carry out wishes has undoubtedly shifted in recent decades. For example, Hartog discusses how in many circumstances elderly parents convinced children to provide the caretaking they needed with promises (sometimes legally enforceable, sometimes not) that family assets would be passed to them so long as the care was satisfactory. He explains that the core inducement of providing such care was the understanding that a family farm, home, bank account, or other asset would be passed to the child in exchange for the child providing the help that the elder needed with tasks like cooking, cleaning, nursing, or even just companionship. Hartog also discusses how elder law attorneys have gotten involved over the years to help seniors, particularly when those previous promises are not fulfilled.

As the book review author noted, elder law is an area that is finally coming into its own. While our New York elder law attorneys have been working on these issues for years, we appreciate that that it is still difficult for many families to find professionals with specific experience in the wide range of issues related to planning for seniors. Fortunately, most law schools now have at least one elder law course. Hopefully awareness of these issues will continue to grow so that more families take the time to plan in ways that take full advantage of the current available legal tools.

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