Abraham Lincoln: Great President, But Why Didn’t He Have a Will?

Posted by adaniels in Blog on December 19, 2012

The movie Lincoln is a big hit at the box office, and it is also a favorite with the critics. But as Danielle and Andy Mayoras noted in an OnWallStreet.com column, Abraham Lincoln was also noteworthy for something related to financial planning. He died without a will. 

 So OnWallStreet.com took a look back in history to see what happened to Lincoln’s estate after his passing. After his father was assassinated in 1865, Robert Lincoln sent a telegram to Justice David Davis of the U.S. Supreme Court about his father, asking him to take over the 16th president’s financial affairs.

Davis became administrator of the estate and said that it was worth $85,000 (several million in today’s dollars.) Ultimately, the estate would be divided between Robert and Thomas Lincoln, the Lincolns’ other living son, as well as Mary Lincoln. In addition, Congress gave Mary Lincoln a lump sum closely equivalent to $25,000, Lincoln’s yearly salary as president. 

 The estate was divided up in 1867, with it ultimately being worth $110,296.80, divided among the three heirs. In addition, Mary could have gotten extra money as a cash allowance because of her being the widow, but she turned that down. For his part, Davis, a close friend of the family, did his legal work for free, even though he could have earned $6,600 for it. 

 It is shocking that Lincoln did not have a will, but it’s even more shocking that between 55% and 67% of all adult Americans do not have a will either. While Lincoln’s situation worked out, most real-world cases today without a will would involve hiring lawyers, and paying big legal fees. As the article notes, “Estates with no wills can be extra complicated and sometimes messier.  Not every family has a Supreme Court Justice willing to step in and help.” An important key to financial planning is having a will.

Written by Lisa Swan


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