18 August 2011

The Importance of Wills

A will is a legal document dictating – to put it simple - how you want your assets divided after you pass. The will is written, signed and witnessed. If the will is decided to be legal and therefore binding, it is said to be testate.

Wills are an incredible resource when tracing a family tree. They can provide family relations. They can offer a glimpse into the day to day life of your ancestor and their economic status to a degree. Although there is no one set way to write a will, they all will provide some basic information. They will start with the person’s name and location. An executor will also be named in the will. This is the person who will physically divide the property and take care of any outstanding bills or collections.

Every will is different. I have one will – the will of William H. Still (at right) – that lists his kids and little else. From his will, dated 27 December 1913, I confirmed he had a son, William D., and two daughters: Kate Russell and Dorinda Still. William and Kate were each given $100, while everything else went to Dorinda and her heirs. The two witnesses were Wm G. Gordon and Mabel E. Entrekin. Neither name means anything to me. His children’s names however confirm that daughter Kate was married before December 1913. William H. passed in 1916. His wife – not mentioned in the will – had passed earlier. His will is short and to the point.

Gentlemen often covered their wife’s interests in their will. For example, William’s uncle George David Still, dated 25 January 1888, directed that if necessary his wife Sarah be provided in essence an allowance from the principal of his estate. He mentions his six children by name. He states that the estate shall be divided evenly among the six however he stipulates that if his son John precedes Sarah in death then the estate is to be divided evenly amongst the other five and their heirs. The other five all had children as of 1888. John, while married, provides no proof in my research of having heirs. Two of the sons: Robert B. and Frank Still are named executors. He does refer to them as his sons. The two witnesses for George’s will are David Still and John Cloud. David is his younger brother. While I have not confirmed the exact relationship of John Cloud to the family, he does also show up as the executor of George’s mother’s will in 1872.

As genealogists we all know and appreciate the importance and significance of wills. How many of us though have one of our own?

Creating a will is actually quite simple. First do an inventory of your assets. Decide what you want to happen to those items after you pass. You might want to consider who would appreciate them the most as well. If you have no heirs, perhaps consider an estate auction with the proceeds going to your favorite charity. Once you have an idea of what you want to do, you can create your will online or go the more traditional route of hiring a lawyer and writing it up at his office.

When writing your will consider too what will become of your research. You can will the fruits of your research to a specific person as well. This ensures the next generation does not have to start from fresh but rather can continue where we leave off.
Locations listed are located in Pennsylvania (USA), unless otherwise noted in post.