Nothing Is Created in Isolation

In 1877, my ancestor wrote his will and gave his wife a life estate in his real property. Upon her death, the real estate was to be divided among their three surviving children.

It can be tempting to say “oh how gracious of him to do this” and focus on how this bequest limited what his wife could do with the property. It did limit what she could do with it. However, as long as the property taxes were paid, it kept her from losing it, kept someone from influencing her into selling it, kept it from going to pay the debts of a subsequent husband, made it impossible for her to mortgage or sell it to pay the debts of a child, etc. She could use the farm to generate income for the rest of her life.

In 1881, the widow made a will and gave the farm to her one son–leaving out her other children. In 1900 when she died the probate judge refused to admit the will to probate (as she had no right to bequeath the property) and all the children of her husband (who were her children as well) inherited the property equally.

Was the ancestor worried that one child would influence his widow after his death? I don’t know but the existence of the will does make me wonder. I wasn’t there and no stories have been passed down. I don’t know what family “drama” had already been going on for years before the husband died. However it is important to remember that sometimes our ancestors had reasons for what they did–reasons that might not be obvious to us and often don’t survive to the present day.

Your ancestor could have been being mean and vindictive. He could also have been as pragmatic as he could.