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The Last Will: Estate Divisions as a Testament of to Whom Altruism is Directed

Journal Article
Elinder, Mikael, Per Engström and Oscar Erixson (2021). “The Last Will: Estate Divisions as a Testament of to Whom Altruism is Directed”. PLoS ONE 16(7), e0254492.

Mikael Elinder, Per Engström, Oscar Erixson

We use data on estate divisions to study to whom altruistic preferences are directed. Insofar bequests are given without the prospect of future personal benefits in mind, they are presumably intrinsically motivated. Hence, estate divisions provide a rare opportunity to study intrinsically motivated prosocial behavior in the field. The empirical analysis is based on data from digitized estate reports for all individuals in Sweden who passed away in 2002 and 2003. The data show in detail how the decedents distributed their bequests. We find that family members, both genetic (offspring) and non-genetic (partner), receive the lion’s share of the estates. Other relatives, friends and strangers (represented by charities) receive only very small shares of the total estate wealth. The results suggest that intrinsically motivated altruism is primarily directed towards close family members.