Hendrik Hartog, Someday All This Will be Yours: A History of Inheritance and Old Age (Harvard University Press 2012)
Dirk Hartog’s Someday All This Will Be Yours: A History of Inheritance and Old Age is a book about story telling in the law, as well as a rich description of work within families, of the complex relationship between labor, money, and love. It is also a new and critical (in several senses of that word) text for the developing field of elder law. Elder law as a discipline that is just now coming into its own, an event that, not coincidentally, is occurring as the baby boomers begin to hit retirement age and as the sandwich generation has become increasingly vocal. More than half of all law schools now include, in their listed curriculum, a course on elder law.
Hartog, who is the Class of 1921 Bicentennial Professor in the History of American Law and Liberty at Princeton University, is also the author of Man and Wife in America (2000), which served as a legal history of marriage in America from the late 18th century through the middle of the 20th century, and was based on studying how ordinary men and women attempted to use the law either to escape their dissatisfying marriages or to seek shelter through the status of marriage. Someday All This Will Be Yours does something similar, also arguably within the context of family law, by studying how, from the mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth century, ordinary men and women 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. Aging individuals used the promise (in these cases, the illusion) of inheritance to induce the needed caretaking at a time when there was no default of Social Security and Medicaid and before the widespread development of pensions. The book analyzes the resulting conflicts about property inheritance, using an extensive database of more than 200 cases from 19th- and 20th-century New Jersey courts as well as more extensive trial transcripts in 60 of those suits. Hartog closely, carefully, and painstakingly examines these cases for what they show about changing patterns in care for the elderly, parent-child relations, the tensions between family and commodification, and the development of the common law outside of precedent-setting and frequently cited cases. As he points out, the cases involve two different “shadowy figures within family la as it has ordinarily been conceived: the adult child and the elderly person.” (p. 21)