What Happens to Your Stuff When You Die?
I was intrigued by Allix Denham's recent advice on nonparents.com, Who Shall I Leave All My Money To? In response, the next several posts will provide historical examples of the legacies, small and large, that childless individuals have left to future generations.
First, here's historian Margaret Darrow on inheritance in Montauban, France, during the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. We've already encountered the devilish proverb cited in her work.
"The most striking difference between the wills of parents and childless Montaubaners was the frequency with which childless testators appointed heirs who were unrelated to them. Nonkin were virtually absent from the wills of parents; in the wills of nonparents, they appeared as heirs 20 percent of the time before the Revolution and 15 percent afterward. They were more popular heirs than were spouses and far more popular than equal inheritance. Most testators did not specify what their connection was to the heir they selected, but a few were employers, landlords, or servants."
Here's a few examples:
"Antoine Besombes, formerly a potter of Montpezat, had been conscripted into the army of the Empire, and in March 1809, on the eve of his departure for the front, he made a will leaving all his property to his young nephew and godson. Paul Caussat, an elderly bachelor, left his estate to his brother-in-law who was his partner in a retail business. Jeanne Sauret was the widow of a field hand and a farm servant herself. Bedridden in her employers house, she left all her goods to her employers children. Surveyor Paul Griffoul returned to his father the portion of a house given him in his marriage contract and left modest legacies to six nephews and nieces; he named his wife as his general heir. In preparation for her entry into the order to St Ursula, Catherine Pradel assigned to her mother her rights in her father's estate. Elderly bachelors and childless widows, soldiers off to war, servant women, and newly married couples--as their circumstances differed, so did their families and their concepts of familial obligations."
Margaret H. Darrow, Revolution in the House: Family, Class, and Inheritance in Southern France, 1775-1825 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989), 71-72.