The 16th president of the United States was arguably one of the greatest leaders in American history. However, when he died in April of 1865, Abraham Lincoln had no will and his estate became entangled in a court process that was made simple only because of his Presidential status.
Lincoln’s death was tragic and, of course, unexpected when he was assassinated at the age of only 56. His family was, understandably, grief stricken and faced with the incredibly daunting task of organizing his assets.
Lincoln’s widow, Mary, and his son, Robert wrote a letter to the county to ask that a close family friend and Supreme Court Justice, David Davis, be appointed as administrator of his estate. The estate was estimated to be worth $85,000 (a few million dollars today) and was to be divided among Mary, Robert, and Lincoln’s other son, Thomas. In addition, Congress held a special session and decided to give a $25,000 ‘donation’ to the family of the president. In this case, Davis did not take compensation for his services which would ordinarily have cost $6,600.
In Lincoln’s time, as is the same as today, a surviving spouse does not automatically inherit the estate of someone who dies without a will. This is a common misconception. An estate that is not governed by a will is subject to fighting among family members and a complicated probate court process. In Lincoln’s case, his family had the free assistance of a Supreme Court Justice and the gratitude of Congress to make the distribution of his estate go smoothly. Not every family will be so lucky.
The good news is that with proper estate planning, probate court can be avoided completely. Just as Lincoln didn’t plan to pass away that fateful evening in 1865, most people are unaware of when their life will end. It is never too early to create a plan. In order to lessen the burden on your loved ones when the time comes, plan responsibly and plan now.
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