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University of Minnesota Extension

Families and inheritance project

Our society is facing a tripling of the aging population by 2050. A lack of informed decision making and planning for normative later life decisions puts individual and family health and wellbeing at risk, and increases costs and consequences for society.

The need

More and more families and professionals working with families, will be experiencing the complexities of inheritance decision situations. The need for inheritance research-based best practices is expected to grow exponentially with the baby boom generation on the cusp of retirement, the oldest old as the fastest growing proportion of the population, and more family systems with four to five living generations.

Without adequate planning and communication, inheritance decisions can carry a heavy price tag for family relationships across the generations. Decisions about titled and non-titled property have the power to punish, reward, protect, and control; they also provide continuity and/or disruption in family relationships, rituals, and traditions. The impact on family members is emotional, financial, and social. The national demand from intergenerational family members and practitioners working with family members for families and inheritance decision-making resources such as Who Gets Grandma's Yellow Pie Plate?™ continues to be strong. Feedback and requests reflect both audiences are hungry for additional depth and breadth in content, especially fairness as a motive.

Why Extension?

The current Family Inheritance Project will build on what has been learned at the University of Minnesota Department of Family Social Science and Extension Department of Family Health and Wellbeing over the past 20 years.

As a faculty member with an Extension appointment, Marlene Stum, Ph.D. is ideally positioned to conduct research and increase our understanding of the meaning and experience of inheritance decisions from older parent and adult child perspectives. Dr. Stum offers expertise in family economics and gerontology, with knowledge of family decision making processes and outcomes. She also has expertise in the application of interpersonal social justice theory to family resource allocations such as inheritance.

Extension’s response

The overall goal of this project is to understand the meaning and experience of interpersonal social justice (fairness) in the context of family inheritance decisions from the perspective of older parents and adult children. The following specific objectives will be addressed:

  • To gain in-depth understanding of how older parents and adult children within and across families perceive and articulate what makes inheritance processes and outcomes “fair” or “unfair;” the reasoning, principles, or “whys” behind fairness perceptions; and influential contextual factors.
  • To disseminate findings and implications to family gerontology researchers and educators, community-based practitioners, and family members. Options for dissemination include a Intergenerational Family Inheritance Justice Framework, justice assessment and planning tools for parents and adult children through yellowpieplate.umn.edu, and training in meaning of fairness for practitioners.

The Families and Inheritance Project findings will allow adding breadth and depth to existing inheritance related program resources with the addition of A FAIR (Families and Inheritance Resources) Divide. This toolkit will contribute substantial new insight and needed practical tools to help intergenerational family members successfully navigate the challenges of “being fair” when facing resource allocation decisions.

A FAIR Divide will include four key sections:

  • Fairness language and meaning.
  • Determining fair outcomes: Potential rules and challenges.
  • Determining fair processes: Criteria to address.
  • Special fairness issues within stepfamilies.

Each section will include key content offered in multiple learning formats as appropriate. This new product will offer accessible research informed resources available anytime at no charge to users.


The project is in progress and continuing through 2020. A FAIR Divide is expected in 2018.


Marlene S. Stum, Extension specialist and professor in family social science, is the primary investigator on this Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station project.

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