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Ancient Wills

Writing a will is one of the oldest rights known to modern man. The privilege of property ownership carried with it the responsibility of securing the stewardship of that property after the death of the owner. Sadly, less than 50% of Americans exercise this fundamental right secured by the blood of our ancestors.

The images below display two of the oldest wills ever discovered. Dated to around 1797 BC, archaeologist William Mathew "Flinders" Petrie (1853-1942), discovered the wills in 1890.  Their discovery made legal historians review their theories about the evolution of law.  Not only do these documents demonstrate the practice of leaving property to another at death, but the 2nd will validates a woman’s right to inherit property; restricts the legatee from tearing down the houses; names guardians for children; and bears the inscription of two witnesses.

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Figure 1

Copy of the title to property made by the devoted servant (?) of the superintendent of works, Ankh-ren. Year 44, month Peyni, day 13. Title to property made by the devoted servant of the superintendent of works, Shepset's son, Ahy-senb, who is called Ankh-ren, of the Northern uart. All my property in marshland(?) and town(?) is for my brother the uab in charge of the corps of Sepdu lord of the East, Shepset's son, Ahy-Senb, who is called Uah; all my associated persons(?) (Are) for this brother of mine. These things were deposited in copy (?) at the office of the second registrar (?) of the South, in the year 44, month Paophi, day 13.

 

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Figure 2

Title to property made by the uab in charge of the corps of Sepdu lord of the East, Uah: I am making a title to property to my wife, the woman of Ges-ab, Sat-Sepdu's daughter Sheftu, who is called Teta, of all things given to me by my brother, the devoted servant of the superintendent of works, Ankh-ren, as to each article in its place of everything that he gave me. She shall give it to any she desires of her children that she bears (has borne?) me. I am giving to her the eastern slaves, 4 persons, which my brother, the devoted servant of the superintendent of works, Ankh-ren, gave to me. She shall give them to whomsoever she will of her children. As to my tomb, let me be buried in it with my wife, without allowing anyone to move (?) earth to it. Moreover, as to the apartments that my brother, the confidential servant of the superintendent of works, Ankh-ren, built for me, my wife dwelleth (shall dwell?) therein, without allowing her to be put (forth) thence on the ground by any person. The deputy Gebu shall act as guardian of my son (lit. "Be child-educator for my son").

One legal scholar has commented that these wills were so well drafted that they would likely be viewed as valid even today!  However, I am not sure how many chancery courts are familiar with hieroglyphics.

Question: Have you prepared or updated your will or do you prefer the state to divide your assets and determine the legal guardianship for your children? No one is too young, or possesses too small an estate to neglect this ancient and noble act. If you would like to discuss your estate plans, or need a referral to a qualified estate-planning attorney, give us a call. 

 

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David Russell serves as Senior Vice President of Wealth Management at Pinnacle Trust. You can reach David by emailing him at drussell@pinntrust.com or by calling the office at 601-957-0323.