Children named and not named in Wills

Long ago I remember a lecture, a class or maybe somebody just told me that it was not uncommon for someone to only name there single children in a will as the married ones had already received there inheritance. I have a will dated 22 July 1850 from Canada where only the single children are listed and the oldest son is listed as one of two executors.

Are there any articles or books that might explain the reasons for this? Was this really common practice and why?

Ann Gilchrest

Submitted byEEon Sat, 06/30/2012 - 20:59

Ann, if this was a custom or a law, it is one new to EE.

Sometimes, testators who had already provided for one or more offspring did not include them in the will; bequests would go only to those who had not received an advance. A common instance of this might be when a testator had multiple marriages. Prior to the remarriage, the testator might make a donation to the children of the first wife, equal to their future share of what he possessed at the time, then "start life fresh" with the new wife. Most parents, arguably, did not have the wherewithal or inclination to give offspring their share of a future inheritance at the time each married. Even if they did try do so, parental fortunes might radically change, for better or worse, before all children wed or the family-head died. 

On those occasions when parents did give offspring a full inheritance in advance, wise parents (or those whose wills were drafted by a more-astute j.p. or attorney) would still take a precautionary step: the offspring who had been provided for would be named but would be bequeathed one shilling, one dollar, or some other token.

As with all research that involves legalities, it's far safer to consult the legal statutes for the time and place. That is something we can do today without much difficulty, thanks to Google Books,, and similar digitizers of rare books or works that are otherwise out of copyright. It is also wise not to make a decision on the basis of one document, even one we expect to be trustworthy. Only by identifying and using all known resources of the time and place can we be reasonably sure that our conclusions are valid. 

Submitted bygllovelaceon Thu, 09/03/2015 - 09:24

It could possibly be that some of the children had fallen out of favor with the testator.  I have a will for a relative who left a will in North Carolina in the early 1900s.  She named 3 daughters, one of whom was married.  To each of the two unmarried daughters, who had stayed close by and helped care for her, she left a parcel of land.  The daughter who actually lived with her received the most favorable piece, as well as the house and household goods.  To the third daughter, who had apparently married and moved away some distance and possibly had no hand and caring for her in her old age, she left "one dollar, when she comes for it."  That is a pretty pointed message to the married daughter that Mama wasn't pleased with being, shall we say, ignored by her.  

I have also seen some early SC wills that don't mention all the children, because they had either married (in the case of women) or had received land or goods earlier before the will was written.