Friday, August 31, 2012

Widow's Rights of the 1880s

In the probate court document “Warrant To Appraisers” of Abel E. Carpenter of the year 1883, in Kane County, Illinois, there is an area that takes up about a third of the sheet. This is preprinted so that everyone, I would suppose, of this time period who had their property appraised after death would see and follow the law. It reads…


            By an act of the Legislature of this State, in force July 1, 1872, it is declared that “the widow, residing in this State, of a deceased husband, whose estate is administered in this State, whether her husband died testate or intestate, shall in all cases, in exlusion of debts, claims, charges, legacies and bequests, except funeral expenses, be allowed, as her sole and exclusive property forever, the forever, the following, to wit: The family pictures and the wearing apparel, jewels and ornaments of herself and her minor children; school books and the family library of the value of one hundred dollars; one sewing machine; necessary beds, bedsteads and bedding for herself and family; the stove and pipe used in the family, with the necessary cooking utensils (or, in case they have none, fifty dollars in money); household and kitchen furniture to the value of one hundred dollars; one milch cow and calf for every four members of the family: two sheep for each member of her family, and the fleeces taken from the same, , and one horse, saddle and bridle; provisions for herself and family for one year; food for the stock above specifed for six months; fuel for herself and family for three months; one hundred dollars’ worth of ther property suited to her condition in life, to be selected by the widow.” By the same act it is directed that the appraisers shall make out and certify to the County Court an estimate of the value of each of these articles of specific property allowed to the widow.
            On this page will be found a blank to be filled and signed by the Appraisers for this purpose.
            Much difficulty is occasioned in many instances by Appraisers mistaking the estimate for the widow  as part of the appraisement. It is not a part of the appraisement, and it is no matter whether the estate has the particular articles mentioned in the following table, or whether there is nothing of the sort among the property of the estate. The Appraisers will take each item in its order, and estimate what it ought to be worth, and what it would be fair to allow the widow therefore, and then set down the estimated value in the columns headed Dollars-Cents. Do not pass any item by. If the estate has not got those articles, the widow can take their estimated value in other things or in cash. Don’t alter the printed amounts in the column, as they are established by law and cannot be changed.
            Having finished your estimate, foot it up, and that footing will be the amount of the widow’s allowance, which she can take in the above articles, if the estate has them, or in any other things at the appraised value, or in money.
            Recollect that the above estimate is not appraising. Having completed the estimate, go on and appraise every article of personal property belonging to the estate, omitting nothing, and set them down with their prices in the Appraisement Bill following.
            The Appraisers having nothing to do with Notes, Accounts, Stocks in Companies, or any other papers, as they cannot be appraised, such things must be left out of the Appraisement Bill entirely. They are proper matters to be listed in the inventory, filed by the executor or administrator, which is a separate matter from the Appraisement Bill.

There is then an area, immediately below two double lines that has APPRAISERS’ ESTIMATE OF THE VALUE OF PROPERTY ALLOWED TO THE WIDOW where each item is listed.

Also, I want to point out that it is not MILK COW, but MILCH cow. Could this have been a different spelling? The answer looks like a big yes. When I looked it up in the dictionary it refers to “milk”. So, apparently, we just don’t really use that term any longer.

From the way that this reads, it looks like there had been some widows that had lost their goods because of the appraisers including the items that they had been allowed to keep by law, but the appraisers included them within the value of the estate. This could have been done either by error, or from my point of view, most probably by nefarious means.

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