One dollar inheritance

+9 votes
I've been writing the biography for my Gx4 grandfather, Nathan Dixon, a farmer in Chatham County, North Carolina.  In his 1827 will he left those of his surviving children who had moved to Indiana one dollar each.  To his wife and those of his children who remained in the county with or near him he left the remainder of his inheritance.  Is this a common thing at the time?  Leaving some of your children a nugatory amount seems harsh, unless there was a legal reason why they had to be left some amount, however small.  Of course he may have given them their share of their future inheritance when they decided to move across the Appallachians.
WikiTree profile: Nathan Dixon
in Genealogy Help by Stephen Trueblood G2G6 Mach 4 (42.2k points)
I have now worked on a bit and when Nathan's wife, Sarah, died three years later she clearly tried to undo the damage.  She left her children who'd been overlooked in the first will their share and then divided the remainder equally between all the children.  And the son who was executor of Nathan's will was not made an executor of Sarah's.  Clearly she felt an injustice had been done the first time.
Last November when life insurance update eason rolled around, my husband did a surprising thing by setting our two youngest children as the beneficiaries if anything happened to both of us. He was coming up on open heart surgery to be done in the following February. It was already a done deal by the time he mentioned it to me. His reasoning was that the youngest two had not yet gotten much help to get on their feet yet and would need it more than the oldest two which we had already helped and one is doing very well financially. Next November I plan to be proactive before the decision gets locked in again and urge him to make it an equal share for all so the older two will not misunderstand. I know they will help the younger two without hesitation if they need it, so I am not worried about the younger two not getting up on their feet. Our oldest one in particularly is about as gracious a giving soul as anyone I have ever met.

7 Answers

+10 votes
Best answer

All of the answers entered so far are correct but I would like to also add a few thoughts;

Sometimes nothing was left to a descendant to show disapproval.  But sometimes the descendant already received their inheritance before the death and nothing was left in the will.  In some cases, the child or grandchild was well off, maybe successful in business or married rich, and the benefactor didn't think that they needed any part of the inheritance.  And lastly, if the heir moved out of state and had lost contact, the donor might not be sure if they are alive or if they will be available to collect if they cannot be located for some years - and this is important because it might not be possible to close out the probate or the process could be delayed if all of the heirs cannot be located.

If you have read many wills you will often see a comment that the person who the will is written for declares that while they are weak in body, they are sound in mind.  This is an important declaration because if it can be proven (or alleged) that the person writing the will was senile, it can be contested.  And what is a good cause to bring action that the will writer was senile?  They forgot to include a child or a grandchild.  Certainly they had senility if they couldn't remember their own family!

The way to show that someone was specifically excluded from the will was to leave them some small amount, usually a dollar.  While in most cases this was done to show disfavor, it wasn't always the case.  If the person already received their inheritance and they knew they weren't going to get anything in the will, if they were left out of the will, they might be able to challenge it.  Money makes people do silly things.  After years of experience, lawyers made it standard practice to add a dollar for those who were excluded.

In modern times, some people do this when leaving a tip for the waiter/waitress.  If you leave no tip, they might think you forgot.  Leaving a penny signals that you were not happy with the service.  This is an older custom as most pay by card now and writing $0.00 in the tip box on the credit card bill is a pretty clear indication that you were dissatisfied.  I read on a travel site that if you are particularly displeased with a server, you can write a message at the top of the credit card slip because the manager or owner will surely see it.

by SJ Baty G2G Astronaut (1.1m points)
selected by Deb Cavel
Off topic, but if we're going there...  WHOA .  What savage gives a waitperson a $0.00 tip to teach them a message? Waitstaff don't make minimum wage in most U.S. jurisdictions.  15% is brutal enough in this economy and it's plenty of a message.  The supervisor does not care that you wrote something jerky on the receipt. Write a Yelp review if you want to protest, but don't mess with someone's living wage.

Former industry person, feel free to DM me any questions about U.S. restaurant industry and poverty.  Also,even better--genealogy research in New Jersey.
All the server has to be is polite and helpful and they’ll certain get a generous tip from me (my wife would say “overly generous”). I worked for tips and I know how difficult it is when you’re expected to make up the deficiency in your paycheck with tips! If the food is bad, it’s not the servers fault!
I too worked for tips,  back when 10% was considered the standard tip.   I don't recall being rebuked by a 1 cent or nickle tip  BUT when I started working where alcohol was served with dinner, people would drink for hours and forget to tip.   Fortunately,  the owner started a mandatory 10% tip in the evenings.    Certainly off topic!!!!   I'll skip the story about my grandfather-in-laws' will.
+15 votes
The one dollar token inheritance was supposed to prevent them challenging the will, because they couldn’t say they were left out!
by Marion Poole G2G Astronaut (1.1m points)
Thanks for the star Stephen
And people still do that to this day!!
+10 votes
one reason is to make it clear they weren’t forgotten and make it more difficult to contest the will.  They may have gotten their share earlier. This is quit common in wills.
by Doug McCallum G2G6 Pilot (410k points)
+6 votes
It was a common way to express disapproval beyond the grave and often because someone in the family had left the home place, or family land. I’ve seen it several times. They would often go to great lengths to make sure that person received the news that they had only been left one dollar.  It was meant to be like a slap in the face, so to speak.
by Paula J G2G6 Pilot (243k points)
+4 votes
Back then it was not even known as to how much a person could leave a family member but today is acceptable to just leave $1 to a family member that was disrespectful and had been untrusting
by Sherri Anderson G2G Crew (620 points)
+5 votes
Had an ancestress who was considered a minor at 17 and inherited the bulk of her mother’s estate as all of the other children were married or dead from the American Civil War. All of the other surviving children got a dollar, except one got a counterpane. A granddaughter also got a couple of items.
by Pip Sheppard G2G Astronaut (2.0m points)
+2 votes
This was done in the will of one of my Augustine Hunnicutt's will.  Can't remember which Augustine it was right now.  I think it is my 9th great grand father.  If so he is the 8th great grandfather of ex-president Jimmy Carter.  A dollar was also worth more 400 years ago.
by Anonymous Roach G2G6 Pilot (184k points)

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