When President Abraham Lincoln passed away on April 15, 1865 he left his family at the mercy of the state laws of inheritance and succession—because he died without a will. It is hard to imagine how Lincoln could have neglected this one thing; after all, he was a statesman and a lawyer. Furthermore, Lincoln is described as someone who thought about death more than the average person.
Lincoln, for all that he did which inspires us today, was not a cheerful sort of fellow. In fact, if he were alive today, he would undoubtedly be diagnosed with clinical depression and treated accordingly. One historian described Lincoln’s sadness after the 1860 Illinois Republican Convention—of which he had unarguably been the star—at a moment that should have been a triumph:
Lincoln’s look at that moment—the classic image of gloom—was familiar to everyone who knew him well. Such spells were just one thread in a curious fabric of behavior and thought that his friends called his “melancholy.” He often wept in public and recited maudlin poetry. He told jokes and stories at odd times—he needed the laughs, he said, for his survival. As a young man he talked more than once of suicide, and as he grew older he said he saw the world as hard and grim, full of misery, made that way by fate and the forces of God. “No element of Mr. Lincoln’s character,” declared his colleague Henry Whitney, “was so marked, obvious and ingrained as his mysterious and profound melancholy.” His law partner William Herndon said, “His melancholy dripped from him as he walked.”
His talk of suicide and his tendency to dwell on maudlin subjects including premonitions of his own death, makes it all the more remarkable that Lincoln had no will, no estate plan of any kind.
As financial columnist Steve Juetten notes in his article, you should do something President Lincoln didn’t.