A will refers to the wife of Thomas Smith as his “now wife.” It does not mean that Thomas had been married before. It does not mean that he was planning on divorcing his current wife and marrying someone else.
It was an inheritance device. It was estate planning. It is done legally…just in case the situation changes before Thomas gets a chance to have his will rewritten.It was done to make the inheritance clear and to confuse genealogists who didn’t bother to learn what it really meant.
Thomas and Mary Smith had several children together. Thomas wants to write his will to make his intentions clear. He wants his wife Mary to have use of the farm for the duration of her life and then to go to the children they had together after her death. But there’s always the chance Mary dies and he marries again–perhaps to a woman named Mary. After all, certain names are fairly common.
If he gives his property to “my wife Mary,” that could create difficulties–should the second wife Mary get it…and would that second wife’s children (who may not be his) get it at her death? If he gives it to “his wife” using that phrase, a second wife, named Mary or not, could get it and the property could go to her children (who may not be his) at his death.
Lawyers put contingent phrases in legal documents all the time–especially wills.