European Journal of Ageing

, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp 181–189 | Cite as

“You’re saying something by giving things to them:” communication and family inheritance

  • Lorna de Witt
  • Lori Campbell
  • Jenny Ploeg
  • Candace L. Kemp
  • Carolyn Rosenthal
Original Investigation


The study purpose was to contribute to a more complete understanding of the experience and meaning of family inheritance. The aim of this article is to describe and discuss the meaning of communication in inheritance experiences among Canadian families. A constructivist/interpretive methodological approach guided this research. Participants were recruited through purposive, convenience sampling from two cities and one town in southern and southwestern Ontario, Canada. Fifty face-to-face, semi-structured, audio-taped, in-depth interviews were conducted between June 2006 and April 2007. NVivo software was used to organize and analyze the data. A content analysis method guided data analysis. Participants interpreted the meaning of family structure, relationships, feelings, and past inheritance experiences to construct their family inheritance communication. Analysis of the findings revealed four themes regarding the role of communication in family inheritance including: (a) avoiding conflict and preserving biological ties, (b) resisting conversations about possessions, (c) achieving confidence withpossession communication, and (d) lasting effects. Participants from non-blended and blended families experienced similar inheritance communication challenges related to past experience with their parents’ wills and distribution of their own possessions. Participants with past positive inheritance experiences with parents adopted similar strategies when communicating their own inheritance wishes. Negative messages conveyed to participants by their parent’s wills inspired participants to communicate in opposite ways in their own inheritance planning. The study findings are useful for gerontologists, lawyers, family counselors, and estate planners.


Family inheritance Communication Older adults 



This study was funded by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada standard research grant (410-2005-2046, P.I. Lori D. Campbell). The manuscript was written as part of the Social and Economic Dimensions of an Aging Population (SEDAPII) program of research funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (412-2004-1006, P.I. Byron G. Spencer). We thank all the study participants for sharing their experiences and insights on family inheritance. We thank Jennifer Plenderleith, former Research Associate, Gilbrea Centre for Studies in Aging, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, for her invaluable assistance with this research project.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lorna de Witt
    • 1
  • Lori Campbell
    • 2
  • Jenny Ploeg
    • 3
  • Candace L. Kemp
    • 4
  • Carolyn Rosenthal
    • 5
  1. 1.Faculty of Nursing, University of WindsorWindsorCanada
  2. 2.Sociology and Health, Aging, and SocietyFaculty of Social Sciences, McMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada
  3. 3.School of Nursing, Faculty of Health Sciences, McMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada
  4. 4.Department of Sociology, The Gerontology InstituteGeorgia State UniversityAtlantaUSA
  5. 5.McMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada

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