[APG Public List] Question about wills

Donna McR donna316 at tx.rr.com
Mon Jun 28 07:54:27 MDT 2010

Regarding giving one dollar in a will:

I have seen a will that allotted one dollar (or ten shillings or some such) to "any child who comes forth claiming to be an heir."  The will's maker named his legal children; I supposed he was "covering his bases" in case the child of another woman made a claim.  I don't know if legally that would do, but at least he was expressing his "will" in the matter.

I love wills, as they often reveal mercurial family dynamics.  One man willed an equal share to all his sons.  The amount to one son, however, was to be put in trust administered by another son, who was instructed to give the son allowances "should he ever give up gaming and intemperance."

A recent project revealed a will of a wealthy fellow with five sons, three obviously being favored, as they were mentioned in glowing terms multiple times and received an equal share of the man's legacy of land, town lots, and money.  The fourth was mentioned as having already received the share due him (which was only a town lot).  The interesting part was the fifth son.  He had apparently taken a loan from his father for his present dwelling place, but had not repaid it.  The father did not forgive the loan (as one would imagine), but rather set the interest retroactively to the time the loan was first made, and gave the son two years to pay it off, lest the land return to the estate, to be divided among the three favored brothers.

And, of course, there is the profligate son-in-law . . . One will specifically gives a daughter the portion equal to that of the other daughters, to be held by this daughter in trust for the "heirs of her body."  He specifically named his son-in-law, no doubt a rapscallion of some stripe, and said this man had already squandered enough of his money and did not deserve another shilling.

I also love estate inventories.  My 3rd great grandfather's estate inventory included a Gunter's scale, which was an early forerunner to the slide rule.  He came to America as a child, an indentured servant.  No doubt poor and uneducated, he worked in his profession of millwright and mechanic to a reputation of some skill.  He built Thomas Jefferson's first threshing machine from a model Jefferson had ordered from the inventor in Scotland (delivered to Jefferson through Thomas Pinckney), and then improved on it and built at least one other.  He was not wealthy, to judge from his estate inventory, but rather a man of a respectable working class with modest land ownership.  A Baptist, he also contributed his little bit to the efforts for religious freedom in early Virginia, which he could not have done in his English homeland.  I say all this to point out that this is the story of so many who came to the Colonies and found opportunities out of reach to them at home.  They set the American pattern we cherish in the stories of our families.

But I digress, as usual.

Warmest Regards,

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