Wills of the First Three Presidents – Part 1

(Part One of Three)

Barring fill-in-the-blank type wills, no two are alike. The family situations of our first three presidents, the value of their estates, and their insistence on writing their own wills produced three quite diverse estate plans.

In Washington’s case, Martha entered the marriage a widow with two children and a large inheritance from her parents. George and Martha had no children of their own, but George did have several nephews he was fond of, not to mention Martha’s children and grandchildren, whom the couple adopted. It was a classic case of yours, mine and ours. That included the 300 slaves they owned. George preceded Martha in death by several years.

In John Adams’ case, he and Abigail lived frugally, barely getting by when serving as a diplomat to France, England and the Netherlands. They were grossly underpaid during his presidency even though he was expected to host the world in the President’s house. Upon retirement, they returned to the farming life in Quincy, Massachusetts. Abigail preceded John in death by several years.

In Thomas Jefferson’s case, his wife, Martha, died after giving birth to a child and Jefferson never remarried. He spent everything he earned, often spending against future crops to satisfy his hunger for books, furniture, and material and labor for his master work, Monticello.

The Washington’s could truly have used a pre-nuptial agreement, but with one exception, their wills were honored and both branches of the family were treated in proportion to the assets of both parties. George wrote his will himself, taking 42 pages to do so. He made many bequests of money, land (about 10,000 acres), and tangible personal property.

Find out what monetary bequests were made by the presidents, next week.

-Patti Spencer