Analyses of transfers mortis causa in America pose both methodological and theoretical dilemmas. In methodological terms, the sacred nature imputed to ownership makes its study problematic on three counts. First, as this sacred nature renders heirship practices private and hence secret, the pertinent data are spotty and biased. Second, the motivations of testators have to be assessed at the right time. Wills and mere intentions are not comparable. Nor are the successive versions of the same will comparable. Third, since many Americans see the very existence of beneficiaries as being inconsistent with the ideal of self-reliance, the ensuing contradictions between the status assigned to testators and to heirs entail a marked asymmetry in the study of intergenerational bonds. On the whole, scholars have studied the motivations of testators rather than those of beneficiaries (Adams 1980; Behrman, Pollak, and Taubman 1982; Becker and Tomes 1976; Williamson and Lindert 1980). Further, those few researchers who examine what people report to have ever received from relatives or friends are faced with two equally damaging inferences (Jencks 1979; Tomes 1988). Either respondents lie about the inconsequential nature of what they have received, and this casts doubt on the validity of social surveys, or the low value of the bequests received by individuals undermines the myth of the United States as the land of opportunity. If so few people have anything to pass down to their children, social stratification proves to have been and to continue to be steeper and less reversible than is often argued.