WE HAVE TAKEN A QUICK LOOK, over time, at some aspects of the law of succession. This branch of law has immense importance socially, culturally, and economically. And it has suffered greatly from scholarly neglect—particularly with regard to its social and economic role in society, and how that role has changed over time. With this book I have tried, rather modestly, to fill some of the gaps, at least on the social history of the subject.
I have not made any proposals for changes in the law. Certainly there is room for improvement. The law of wills is surely still too rigid. There are too many formalities. The whole process of “probating an estate” is still too bureaucratic and complex. Most countries seem to manage to transfer enormous sums from generation to generation without the fuss and formality of American law. But American law is moving in the direction of greater simplicity and flexibility. The spread of the holographic will is one example. It used to be valid only in the southern and western states, but it is now found in many states outside its natural habitat. One could also point to the “self-proved” will, and to states that now grant forgiveness and indulgence to people who make some minor mistake in drafting or executing a will. The courts are more willing to stretch