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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/545

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LAST WILLS AND TESTAMENTS.

It suggests a familiarity with laws past and laws present, and it means, if it means anything, that competent intelligence must guide the hand which guides the pen.

In view of these facts, there is small reason to complain at the litigation so frequently entailed in connection with estates. To prepare or draw a will is not the simple matter some imagine it to be, even when short and free from intricate questions of law. The slightest ambiguity in language, giving opportunity for dispute as to the testator's real intentions; ignorance of the legal effect of certain dispositions made in the instrument; wishes imperfectly expressed; illegible writing; erasures; interlineations, and circumstances similar in character, are all fruitful of evil consequences. The books are full of instances where instruments have been propounded as wills, but which have proved to be still-born, or, if initiated into existence as living, genuine wills, only so after the ordeal of many years' litigation to determine their genuineness, sufficiency, or construction, has been endured. Like surgery, law is a science. The unscientific man may with equal propriety endeavor to amputate his own limb as draw his own will. In each case he has ventured upon a field in which he has neither knowledge, experience, nor skill. He may succeed, but every probability points to a fatal result.

The antiquity of testaments is such that many imagine that to prepare and execute one is a matter of general information—one concerning which all are competent to speak. It is true that this mode of transferring title or ownership dates far back into remote ages. Writers assert that abundant evidence exists that wills were in use among the Hebrews in the earliest times. Plutarch speaks of their introduction by Solon into Athens, some six hundred years before the Christian era. The Twelve Tables gave to the Romans the right of bequeathing their property, a power which in England is coeval with the invasion of the Saxon, for no record or memorial exists of a period when this right did not obtain. But this antiquity proves nothing. Other sciences are equally old.

To prepare or draw a will can only safely be undertaken by him whose intelligence and experience have earned him the right to assume the task.

The subject of incapacity and undue influence is not embraced in this inquiry, but a word in reference to it may not be out of place. No will was ever yet drawn, nor can one be, which was or will be proof against attack from this quarter. That many have been disgracefully contested by shameless relatives is true; for, to forget such in his will, even if related to the deceased but in the remotest degree, is conclusive evidence to the minds of some that the sanest or most self-willed man while living has proved, in spite of all, weak and insane at death. Because contests frequently arise, however, from this cause, it does not follow that this is not at times a very proper ground