The Last Will and Testament of an American President
The Presidential election is in the news. Any linkage to wills and estate law would appear to be a difficult connection. Yet, the Last Will and Testament of the first President, George Washington, is interesting in several respects.
In his own orderly handwriting, the will shows the wisdom and depth of understanding his unique life experience gave him. It is a well thought out, personal, and intelligently written document, prepared by an obviously brilliant man who has taken caution to be humble. He prepared it on his own, or as he says, “… no professional character has been consulted, or has had any agency in the draught” of the will.
The will appoints executors, provides for the disposition of his estate, the care of his wife, the release of his slaves, charitable donations to orphans, and the support of education, among other testamentary instructions. George Washington was born on February 22, 1732, in Westmoreland County, Virginia, and died on December 14, 1799, at his home in Mount Vernon, Virginia. He had been the first President of the United States from April 30, 1789, to March 4, 1797.
It is interesting that the last paragraph of the will, written more than two hundred years ago, provides for an arbitration process:
“My Will and direction expressly is, that all disputes (if unhappily any should arise) shall be decided by three impartial and intelligent men, known for their probity and good understanding; two to be chosen by the disputants each having the choice of one and the third by those two. Which three men thus chosen, shall, unfettered by Law, or legal constructions, declare their sense of the Testators intention; and such decision is, to all intents and purposes to be as binding on the Parties as if it had been given in the Supreme Court of the United States.”
His reference to the Supreme Court of the United States is also noteworthy. The court was created by Article III of the Constitution and was established by the 1st Congress through the Judiciary Act of 1789 consisting of the Chief Justice and five associate justices. The position of Chief Justice is the only position fixed by the Constitution. The number of justices is set by Congress and has been amended many times over more than two hundred and thirty years resulting in the current number of nine.
The complete text of the Last Will and Testament of George Washington can be found on many archival and historic websites. The original is housed in the safe of the Fairfax County Courthouse in Fairfax Virginia. It comprises 29 front and back handwritten pages and an additional 15 pages with a detailed property schedule.
Thank you for reading!