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Barry Lam

Abstract

The practice of giving the wealthy perpetual control of their assets is re-emerging in an era of great wealth inequality, long after it had been banned in common law countries. The philosophical justification for such control rests on the claim that there are posthumous rights to wealth, and that such rights do not extend in problematic way to other goods, such as political suffrage. On the basis of such a claim, we give people freedom of testation, and deem them vulnerable to posthumous harm. I present a short history of legally sanctioned posthumous control of property in common law, and I argue that its philosophical justification is untenable. No principled case for posthumous rights to wealth survives scrutiny, and the large and powerful institutions that enforce such rights are morally illegitimate.

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Section
Articles