Ralph C. Brashier, Inheritance Law and the Evolving Family.
In this informative new book, Professor Ralph C. Brashier of the University of Memphis School of Law presents a fascinating analysis of how the changing structure of the family is impacting inheritance laws. Many different family arrangements are considered in this book including families headed by single parents, gay and lesbian couples and step-parents, as well as families with children born with the help of advanced reproductive technology. Brashier has significant experience in the area of probate law, and this book's extensive legal and secondary source citations reflect the depth and breadth of his considerable knowledge. It is evident that Brashier is trying to exercise some influence on policy makers, but the book is written in a clear, easy to understand prose that would be understood by social workers, public health nurses, or those who simply wish to gain more knowledge on this topic.
In each chapter, Brashier presents the current law and its history in a balanced manner, although he does not hesitate to state his own views. According to Brashier, the fundamental problem facing states trying to adapt to the many different family structures that now exist is to create clear and predictable rules, particularly rules about who to include in the definition of family. Allowing judges to make a case by case decision about what is a family could result in different and inconsistent laws, and Brashier asserts that states should develop default probate laws that better reflect modern American families, without sacrificing the objectivity and efficiency.
The book is composed of six chapters focusing on inheritance issues that arise with legally married couples, couples that are not married, adopted children, and those children born with the help of reproductive technology. A separate chapter on the complexities of determining paternity is also provided. Brashier's compassion and concern for families is evident throughout the book, but nowhere more so than in his chapter on children were he condemns the ability of parents to completely disinherit their children, calling such parents "moral villains."
Brashier expresses concern for married mothers who live in "separate property" states where the wage-earner spouse is the sole owner of his wages during the marriage and literally must die before the law recognizes that the mother has any interest in his wages. In another chapter, Brashier makes intelligent and impassioned arguments supporting the right of gay and lesbian couples to enter into legal marriages and enjoy spousal inheritance rights, stressing fairness. Brashier's discussion about advanced reproductive technology, including cloning, also helps the reader understand the difficult issues involved. Challenging issues include who owns sperm or eggs; should sperm and eggs be inheritable and how long after the deceased is dead should sperm and eggs be used to create a child? Brashier also briefly addresses human cloning and takes a fatalistic but practical position. Human cloning, he believes, is inevitable, and states should, therefore, pass laws regulating cloning to protect the children produced.
Brashier addresses controversial issues in an informed, articulate, and thoughtful manner. His book raises issues which will undoubtedly confound legislatures for decades to come. It will be a useful starting point for legislators facing the daunting task of resolving those issues. But the book is also very accessible to those who work in the social services. It is fine addition to the library of anyone wishing to provide financially for their families.
Karen Jones-Mason, University of California, Berkeley
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|Publication:||Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2005|
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