Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Elizabeth's Will: Was It Wisdom?

Elizabeth      ---      Isabelle      ---      Henry Meinzen
My little great-grandmother, Elizabeth (Armitage) Meinzen, created a will before she died in 1920.  It surprises me perhaps because she was illiterate, or maybe because her husband, Henry Meinzen, left no will.  She died in June, 1920; he died in December, 1925.

Was this arrangement wisdom on both their parts?  Both Henry and Elizabeth must have believed that she would pass away before him:  she had cancer.  If home and property were in her name, she would need a will to avoid dying intestate.  With Elizabeth as owner of property, Henry avoided the need for a will which allowed his inheritors to avoid probate.

Elizabeth willed all her possessions to Henry, real and personal, for use during his lifetime to ensure he had a comfortable life -- except for two conditions.  The first condition was that $100.00 be set aside for her granddaughter, Elizabeth Ann Meinzen, until she turned 21.  (Elizabeth Ann's father had died when she was an infant.)  The second condition was that after Henry's death whatever of her possessions remained were to be divided equally among her six remaining children.

When Jefferson County, Ohio, court records began to appear on FamilySearch, I checked again for a will for Henry Meinzen but found none.  Instead I found Elizabeth's settlement.  On January 29, 1926, a month after Henry's death, his daughter, Isabelle Hashman, went to court to settle Elizabeth's estate.  She requested that the ownership of the home and and property which had been left to her deceased father be transferred to the six living children.  (I don't believe there was a deed transfer for the property to Henry after Elizabeth's death.)

I'd like to say that was the final step in the probate of Elizabeth Meinzen's will and everything was settled but I don't believe it was.  All things considered, it could not have been.  How could joint ownership of a property succeed?  All six of Henry and Elizabeth's surviving children had either families and/or spouses and two of which lived a day's drive from Steubenville.  Did all of the children agree that one of them could live in the house and pay the property taxes.  It's equally possible the property was sold and the children split the resultant money.  I have yet to research deeds for the sale of the property.

Questions arise in my mind because the wife had a will and the husband had none.  I can't help but wonder at their choice when the custom of the time was the reverse.  The fact of a will demands that the person writing the will has ownership of possessions to disperse after his/her death.  Which brings me to this question:  How is it that the property was in Elizabeth's name and not it Henry's or in both names?  Were they a modern couple and early supporters of women's rights?  Did Henry encourage Elizabeth to put the property in her name; did she insist or demand; or was it a unified action upon which they both agreed?  Did they counsel together to make a reasoned, educated decision about property ownership and wills?  I marvel at the choices this couple made (especially when I think of other ancestors who died with property and possessions and without wills).  I doubt I will ever find answers to my questions.  They may be questions that none of their children or other descendants ever asked, considered, or care to know. 

This leaves me wondering:  was it wisdom that Henry and Elizabeth settled their affairs this way?  If so, what have I missed in the understanding of this situation?  What would have been the benefit to Henry not having a will?  Would tax laws of the time give me more understanding about this situation?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Below is the transcription of Elizabeth's estate settlement from Jefferson County (Ohio) Probate Journal, Volume 28, December 1925-December 1926, page 74.

In the Matter of the Estate of         )
ELIZABETH MEINZEN,    Deceased   )   January 29th, 1926.

     This day came Isabelle Hashman and filed herein her application duly verified, for an order to the County Auditor directing the transfer upon the tax duplicate of Jefferson County, of certain real estate devised by Elizabeth Meinzen, deceased, and for a certificate to the County Recorder.
     Upon consideration whereof, the Court finds that by the terms of the will of said decedent, said real estate was devised to Henry Meinzen Jr., Isabelle Hashman, Wilhelmina Harris (also known as Elizabeth W. Harris) Lulu Sticker, Robert Meinzen (also known as W. C. Robert Meinsen [sic], and Naomi Rhome.
     That the following is a description of said real estate such as is contained in the
Will, to-wit:
     ITEM II.  I give, devise and bequeath to my husband, Henry Meinzen, during his natural life, all the property, real and personal, of every kind and description, wheresoever situated, wheresoever and whatever it may be, which I may own or have the right to dispose of at the time of my decease, except that bequeathed by Item IV thereof, together with the right to sell or dispose of any or all of the same, if necessary, for his comfortable care and keep, and direct that his debts for doctors' bills and funeral expenses be paid out of my estate.
     ITEM III.  After the death of my husband, Henry Meinzen, I give, devise and bequeath to my sons and daughters, Henry Meinzen, Jr., Isabel [sic] Hashman, Wilhelmina Harris, Lulu Sticker, Robert Meinzen and Naomi Rhome, share and share alike, whatever may be left or remaining of the estate so devised and bequeathed to my said husband.
     ITEM IV.  To my granddaugther, Elizabeth Ann Meinzen, I give and bequeath the sum of $100, and direct my executrix to deposit said sum in a bank, at interest, to be paid to my said granddaughter when she reaches the age of 21 years, but if she dies before reaching that age, then said sum to revert to my estate and be paid to my husband, Henry Meinzen, if he be then living, or in case he be then dead, to be paid in equal shares to my children named in Item III hereof."
     The following is a specific description of said real estate:
     Situate in the City of Steubenville, County of Jefferson and State of Ohio, and being part of Lot No. 63 in Simmons & Foster's Addition to the City of Steubenville, Ohio, beginning for the same at a point on the south line of Oregon Avenue 150 feet East of the East line of Woodlawn Road; thence running in a southerly direction parallel with the east line of Woodlawn Road, 108 feet; thence in an Easterly direction along the South line of Lot No. 63 30 feet; thence in a Northerly direction parallel with the East line of Woodlawn Road 108 feet to the South line of Oregon Avenue; thence in a Westerly direction along the South line of Oregon Avenue, to the place of beginning, excepting and reserving the coal and other minerals.
     Being the same premises conveyed by Clyde O. Davis and wife to Elizabeth Meinsen [sic] by deed dated October 21, 1918, and recorded in Vol. 117, at page 492 of the Jefferson County, Ohio, Record of Deeds."
     And it appearing to the satisfaction of the Court that the terms of said Will have been fully complied with on the part of said Devisee hereinbefore named, it is ordered that said real estate be transferred upon the duplicate of the county to the names of Henry Meinzen Jr., Isabelle Hashman, Elizabeth W. Harris, Lulu Sticker, W. C. Robert Meinzen and Naomi Rhome, and that a certificate of this order issue to said Auditor and Recorder, as required by law.
                                                                    ATTEST:  EMMETT M. MORROW, JUDGE

Copyright © 2014 Nancy Messier.  All rights reserved.


  1. Replies
    1. I wonder if I'll find answers to the questions. It often seems to be my lot to have too many unanswered questions.

  2. The question that comes to my mind is: was Henry bankrupt? If so, doing things this way could protect her heirs against having their inheritance seized for his debts.

    1. Thank you for this thought, Michael. It is not a possibility I would have thought of. No one likes to think of an ancestor mismanaging his/her money or having such a financial problem for whatever reason but I suppose it's possible in this case. Henry owned a small shop during his later years and they seemed to be people who lived simple lives but it's a possibility. I suppose there could be court files and records?

    2. Hi Nancy, sorry I took so long to get back to you. If there was a formal bankruptcy, it would be filed in the US District Court. Ordinary suits for debt would be filed in the county court. BUT, now that I know that Henry owned a small shop, this could simply be insurance against such a possibility. This sounds like a good question for The Legal Genealogist.

    3. Thank you for returning with more information, Michael. I need to see if I have information about when Elizabeth's husband's store was last open. The building was a duplex and they had a shop on one side and the store in the other. Knowing that might help me know more about bankruptcy. I'll considering posing the question to The Legal Genealogist. I'm sure she would have helpful information. Thanks, again.

  3. Hello. I wonder if the property was originally deeded to Elizabeth from her father. Have you found the original property records?

    1. Thank you for the suggestion, Jenna. I've found the deed for the property and she didn't purchase it from her father. In fact, I believe the original deed was in both hers and her husband's names.


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