Estate Planning Historical Fact 1: Estate planning has been around for a very long time
One of the most basic, and essential, estate planning tools available today is the Last Will and Testament. Through this document people can make choices about what they want to happen to the property after they are dead. But what most people don’t know is that the Last Will and Testament has been around for thousands and thousands of years.
In 1890, archaeologist William Matthew Petri discovered ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics written by a pair of brothers. The hieroglyphics are the first known evidence of a written Last Will and Testament. Amongst the terms included with the brother’s wills are choices about property distribution, as well as decisions about who should serve as guardian for their young children.
By the time of the Roman Empire, Last Wills and Testaments became relatively commonplace. For example, the Code of Justinian, adopted in the sixth century, contained detailed provisions about what people had to do in order to create a legally valid Last Will and Testament.
Estate Planning Historical Fact 2: Four presidents have died without leaving behind a Last Will and Testament
Few figures in American history have such a revered and well-known position as those who serve in the office of the presidency. Not surprisingly, almost all of America’s presidents have left behind a Last Will and Testament. Almost all but four of them, that is.
Both presidents Lincoln and Garfield, who were assassinated while in office, did not have a Last Will and Testament prepared at the time of their unexpected deaths. Andrew Johnson, who took over the office of the presidency after Lincoln’s assassination, similarly died without leaving behind a Last Will and Testament, as did Ulysses S Grant, Johnson’s successor.
However, outside of those four, every other president has left behind a Will, many of which are available for online viewing. (For example, John F. Kennedy’s Last Will and Testament is available here.)
Estate Planning Historical Fact 3: We can blame estate taxes on the French
Even though estate taxes today are very different than what they once were even a few years ago, the idea of taxing estates came about largely in response to the Quasi-War between the United States and France. This undeclared war took place between 1798 and 1800 between navies of the competing nations. Prior to the war, the United States did not have a large enough naval fleet, and in 1796, President John Adams passed the country’s first effective estate tax in order to raise money to build more ships.
Over the years the estate tax has come and gone several times, primarily because of the federal government’s need to raise money in times of conflict.
Looking for more information on Wills?
Our next estate planning workshop is scheduled for September 30th and October 4th. Catherine Hammond will be talking about the difference between Wills and Trusts, why putting your assets into joint tenancy may be a mistake, and much more. To register for this workshop or for more information, go the the workshop page on our website.