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The widow Ann’s choice

You’d think by now The Legal Genealogist would know that if there is anything that’s important to another genealogist…

It’s the rest of the story.

Doesn’t matter that there’s a lesson to be learned in dealing with interesting and unusual legal records — the widow’s right to dower and her right to elect dower instead of whatever her husband chooses to leave her in his will.

Doesn’t matter that there’s a lesson to be learned in reviewing the statutes that give the widow both the statutory right to dower and the statutory right to elect between dower and any bequest in her husband’s will.

Doesn’t matter that there’s a lesson to be learned about the need to pursue a case to its conclusion.1

The real lesson to be learned is…

Tell the rest of the story.

So… responding to popular demand (and boy do I mean demand!)… here it is.

Yesterday we learned that Ann Wilkison, likely the second wife of Samuel Wilkison, was cut out of his lands and his personal property by a bequest in his will that he intended “to be in Lieu of her right of dower in (his) real Estate.”2

What he did was set aside the sum of $3,600 in cash from his estate and provide that she was to have the income from that amount, in cash, paid each year during her natural life.3

Under the law, she had the right to accept that bequest, and take the income from that $3,600 every year until she died, or to turn it down and insist on her dower rights instead.4

So… what did she do… and how do we know?

By tracking Samuel Wilkison’s estate forward in the Orange County, New York, Surrogate’s records, we find that on 3 October 1868, the executors of Wilkison’s estate — M. Lewis Clark and Timothy W. Horton — applied for an order approving their final accounting of the estate. They reported to the court that the total value of Wilkison’s estate was $17,412.57, against which there were $6,323.12 in debts, leaving $11,089.45 to be distributed.5

The record doesn’t report how much of the estate’s total assets took the form of real estate, and how much of the real estate might have been subject to Ann’s dower right. Mortgaged property, for example, still had to be subjected to the mortgage.6

Even assuming that everything left over after the debts were paid was all real estate, Ann’s share would have been valued at just about $3,700 — a little more than she received under the will — but that wouldn’t necessarily have been income-producing property.

So… what did she take? According to the final inventory, she took the annual income from the $3,600 investment.7

Ann

If she’d intended to contest the bequest, the law required her to file within a year of Samuel’s death — or, since he died in 1866, by no later than sometime in 1867. The court record showing her receiving benefits under the will in 1868 makes it clear she didn’t turn down the money and the income it promised.

Did she make a good choice? Without more information, it’s hard to know for certain. But it’s pretty easy to see why she made the choice the did.

As noted yesterday, it seemed that Ann was Samuel’s second wife. And, it turns out, he wasn’t her first husband. She’d been married before, to Silas D. Horton, who left a will executed 5 June 1849 in which he left her everything — real estate, personal property and all — but only for her lifetime.8 By the time the estate was finally closed out, in 1860, Ann just broke even: there was nothing left in the estate.9

In her early 60s when Samuel died, with kin in the area she could live with — her brother Smith Purdy in the 1870 census,10 and her daughter Mary in 1875 and 1880,11 Ann must have thought that taking the money was the safer long-term bet. Assuming that the cash was invested safely and securely as Samuel directed, Ann would have received cash every year for the 17 years that she outlived Samuel.

So in Ann’s case, it looks like taking what Samuel provided in his will was a good deal — and could well have been the best available deal.

Now if you want to see a case where turning down a bequest and choosing the dower right really made a difference the other way, go back and read “Philippina’s choice.” That one may be one of my all-time favorite cases … because, as today, it tells us…

The rest of the story.


SOURCES

  1. See Judy G. Russell, “Her choice, not his,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 16 Nov 2015 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 17 Nov 2015).
  2. Orange County, New York, Surrogate’s Court, Original Wills Vol. 442, Will of Samuel Wilkison, 15 Sep 1866; Surrogate’s Office, Goshen, New York; digital images, “New York, Orange County Probate Records, 1787-1938,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 15 Nov 2015).
  3. Ibid.
  4. §13, Title III, “Of Estates in Dower,” in Montgomery Throop, ed., The Revised Statutes of the State of New York, … 1778-1881, III: 2198 (Albany, NY: Banks & Brothers, 1882).
  5. Orange County, New York, Surrogate’s Court, Decrees F:430, In re Wilkison’s Estate (1868); Surrogate’s Office, Goshen, New York; digital images, “New York, Orange County Probate Records, 1787-1938,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 16 Nov 2015).
  6. See §§4-6, Title III, “Of Estates in Dower,” in Throop, ed., The Revised Statutes of the State of New York, … 1778-1881, III: 2197.
  7. Orange County, New York, Surrogate’s Court, Decrees F:430.
  8. Orange County, New York, Surrogate’s Court, Will Book Q: 430, Will of Silas D. Horton, probated 14 Oct 1850; Surrogate’s Office, Goshen, New York; digital images, “New York, Orange County Probate Records, 1787-1938,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 15 Nov 2015).
  9. Orange County, New York, Surrogate’s Court, Decrees D: 150, Estate of Silas D. Horton.
  10. 1870 U.S. census, Rockland County, NY, Haverstraw, population schedule, p. 52 (penned), dwelling 330, family 353, Ann Wilkison; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 16 Nov 2015); citing National Archive microfilm publication M593, roll 1087.
  11. For 1875, see New York State Census, Orange County, Wallkill, 2d Election District, p. 35, dwelling 259, family 310, Anna Wilkison, mother-in-law, in J.P. Uptegrove household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 16 Nov 2015); citing New York State Archives, Albany, New York. For 1880, see 1880 U.S. census, Orange County, NY, Middletown, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 40, p. 266A (stamped), dwelling 75, family 85, Anna Wilkison, mother-in-law, in Josiah Uptegrove household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 16 Nov 2015); citing National Archive microfilm publication T9, roll 911.
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