Independance Day Reflections
This month we celebrate our nation’s birthday, July 4, 1776, at age 223. Independence Day reminds Americans we enjoy unique freedoms: speech, religion, guns, due process, trial by jury, and more. Our freedoms are often threatened but still in place. God bless America!
Did you know Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and died on the same day, July 4th, 1826? The date was the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Declaration. The coincidence was described as a “visible and palpable” manifestation of “Divine favor” by the sitting President at the time, John Quincy Adams.
John Adams prepared his handwritten last will and testament in 1819, shortly after the death of his wife, Abigail. Adams had been a practicing attorney. His household possessions, several parcels of land, and the family pew at First Congregational Church were sold at auction by his executors. Adams left his house and farm (Peacefield) to his son, John Quincy Adams on the condition that John Quincy pays his executors $10,000 within 3 years. Adams also left John Quincy his library (on the condition that John Quincy pays his other son, Thomas Boylston Adams, the value of one-half of the library), his French writing desk, and his personal letters, journals and other papers. Adams divided the remainder of his estate among his two sons, his grandchildren, and his niece, Louisa Smith. His estate was valued at about $100,000.
Jefferson made his handwritten last will and testament and a codicil in 1826, just a few months before his death. Thomas Jefferson’s wife, Martha, died in 1782. He did not remarry. Of their six children, only Martha survived Jefferson. You can draw your own conclusions about Sally Hemings and her children. In his will, Jefferson left his land at Poplar Forest to his grandson, Francis Eppes, son of his deceased daughter Mary. Because daughter Martha’s husband was insolvent, Jefferson left the rest of his estate in trust for the benefit of Martha and her heirs until the death of her husband (Thomas Randolph). By his codicil, Jefferson freed five of his slaves and made gifts to James Madison (a gold-mounted walking staff) and Jefferson’s grandchildren (watches), left his library to University of Virginia, and left his papers (business, literary and other) to his grandson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph. Unfortunately, the estate was subject to the claims of Jefferson’s creditors. Jefferson died with debts exceeding $100,000. At an estate auction, his household furniture, farm equipment, and 130 slaves were sold. After standing idle for 5 years after his death, Martha sold Monticello to pay his remaining debts.
Although times have changed, our clients share the concerns of Adams and Jefferson. Some clients are concerned about setting their relationships to right and concerned about preserving their intellectual property. We often include trusts for financially challenged family members. We occasionally encounter handwritten wills and insolvent estates. Isn’t that one of the things that make America great: Presidents and all citizens have the same power to write their final wishes and appoint trusted representatives to carry them out.