Tuesday, March 01, 2011

“Ancient, Curious and Famous Wills”

Roman wills were sealed, after they had been securely fastened and other precautions taken against forgery.

In the seventh century wills were written on bark or wood.

Anglo-Saxon wills were made in triplicate, and consigned to separate custodians.

Welcome to "Ancient, Curious and Famous Wills," authored by Virgil Harris, published in 1911 and, thanks to Google's scanning, now available to read online. Or, in my case, available as a free download to my new Kindle. (Yes, we retirees can do 21st-century. Sometimes we even do it without the help of our grandchildren.)

Anyone seeking to add flavor or seasoning to estate-planning articles knows this classic work, or should. For the uninitiated, a sample:

The disposition of property by will does not show that the good men do is "oft interred with their bones," but rather that … humanity broadens and grows kindlier with the years. It may be observed that the mean and hateful traits of human nature are more frequently shown by heirs and legatees than by testators.

It is true that … many testators evince a strong desire to take with them to the next world the substance collected in their dusty lives; but the law has placed hindrances, and as Pope says:

"The laws of God as well as of the land Forbid a perpetuity to stand."

Your homework: Compose the couplets Alexander Pope might have written had he known the future would include dynasty trusts.

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