One thing I didn’t know about continental Europe is that in many countries there inheritance isn’t something that you can allocate in your will. If you want to give it all to charity, tough luck: it is impossible and illegal. Instead, you are obligated to leave a set portion of your total estate to your children, divided equally among them. This is referred to as “forced heirship.” There are even provisions in place to “claw back” money given away in the last few years of life, so as to prevent people from circumventing the heirship law by donating while alive. As such, if you give a big dollop of money to a charity and die a few years later (less than two in Austria, or ten in Germany), the state might take it back and give some of it to your children.
This all strikes me as rather batty and weird. After all, the privilege of being able to assign where your wealth goes after death is a natural extension of private property rights in general (though is reasonably subjected to things like inheritance taxes). Particularly in the case of very wealthy individuals, you could also argue that giving a large set share of the estate to each child will do more harm than good. This is what Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and others have argued, when setting up their wills to give only a small fraction of their wealth to their children. Indeed, one of the major consolations associated with the way wealth tends to concentrate is that people who assemble truly colossal heaps of it often give a lot to charity as they age and die. Gates is certainly an example, as were Carnegie and others. The European system seems more inclined towards the establishment of dynasties. That said, it is certainly possible for people who have been given the ability to choose who will inherit their estate to make the choices poorly. There are definitely worse options than even distribution among children. Cases of people leaving their estates to their pets spring to mind.
In practical terms, there are lots of ways people could work their way around such requirements. They could hold much of their wealth in jurisdictions where the law is different. They could also convert most of their wealth into a life annuity upon retirement. It would be interesting to know what proportion of people use such mechanisms in European countries, and how they are distributed between different levels of wealth.