Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Famous "Last Wills" Exhibit Opens

On February 28, 2008, NBC-4 TV (Wash. D.C., VA, & MD) posted an article entitled "Wills Of Famous Washingtonians On Display", by Eun Yan, who reported about "[a] special exhibit at the D.C. Superior Court [that] showcases the wills of 13 famous Washingtonians".

Displayed in the exhibit are testamentary writings of Frederick Douglass, Alexander Graham Bell, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and several presidents and first ladies. You can view that television station's broadcast segment about the exhibit online here:

Watch The Report

This free, public exhibit was assembled by Anne Meister, the Register of Wills at the D.C. Superior Court. The display is located in the D.C. Superior Court's Building "A", next to a law enforcement memorial.

The article notes that some of the wills on display are just one page, but others have several very detailed pages.
Frederick Douglass' handwritten will offers a glimpse into the life of the statesman, abolitionist and author. Douglass' will indicates things that mattered to him, such as taking care of his wife and the disposition of his writings and papers.

Douglass died with a large sum of money, which he earned himself. He left 15 acres of land and $20,000 to his wife. He also left $15,000 to each of his children, male and female, even though daughters rarely received money in wills during Douglass' era.

President Franklin Pierce's will, Meister noted, indicated that his swords should be left to his nephews. Pierce said the swords should be used if the occasion arises, but they were not to be used with any dishonor.

First lady Julia Dent Grant, wife of Ulysses S. Grant, gave a history of each item she left to her family members in her will. * * *
Can't get to Washington, D.C. to view this exhibit? You could, instead, read about last wills of some famous folks from various Internet sources:
  • U.K. National Archive's "Famous Wills" (including those of Shakespeare, Nelson, & many more famous English personalities)
There is another question raised by the posting of such personal legal documents: Is it right (or legal) to post a person's Last Will on the Internet?

For an interesting discussion about public policy, copyright, & privacy ramifications of such a posting, see: Wikopedia's "User Talk" discussion on such "Legal Issues" (2006). Wikopedia's own listing of famous last wills is mentioned under "Wills in History".

Such issues do not affect Internet posting of perhaps the most famous last will of a Pennsylvanian -- Benjamin Franklin. His last will is posted widely, beginning on the website of The Franklin Institute.
"But in this world nothing can be said to be certain,
except death and taxes."

-- Benjamin Franklin
Letter to Jean Baptiste Le Roy (1789)
per The Quotations Page
Update: 03/13/08:

Recently, the
Leimberg Information Service posted reference to this Blog entry on its home page; and that is a compliment. But, to get to my posting, you must pass through a data-mining exercise, which I have not endorsed.