Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Thursday, April 22, 2010

100th Anniversary of Mark Twain's Death

TwainYesterday was the 100th anniversary of the death of Samuel L. Clemens, who was better known by his pen name Mark Twain. 

A recent New York Times article offers the following details about Mark Twain's will,  which the article suggests was clearly drafted by a lawyer, and not Twain, because of its bland writing.

  • Despite being almost broke ten years before his death, Twain left behind an estate valued at $500,000. 
  • Twain's will was probated in Redding, Connecticut. 
  • The will split his estate between his two daughters, stating that each daughter was free to enjoy her share without control or interference of her husband.
  • Only one of Twain's daughter's survived him and her only child predeceased her, effectively ending Twain's line of heirs.

Appraisal documents state that "[t]he deceased also left a small trunk with the Lincoln Safe Deposit Company, which trunk contained copies of certain of his manuscripts, the originals of which were in his possession at Redding, Connecticut at the time of his decease, and the contents of said trunk may therefore be stated to be worthless."  Alison Leigh Cowan, Twain's Heavily Lawyered Last Words, NY Times, April 20, 2010. 

Ultimately, Twain's estate may have undervalued his manuscripts by calling them worthless.  Sotheby's announced yesterday that in honor of the 100th anniversary of Twain's death, it will be auctioning off one of Twain's manuscripts, a 65-page memoir called "A Family Sketch."  

See Alison Leigh Cowan, Twain's Heavily Lawyered Last Words, NY Times, April 20, 2010; AP, Sotheby's to auction manuscript by America's Mark Twain, April 21, 2010; see also these fascinating photos of hand-written probate records from Twain's estate, including Twain's will.

Special thanks to Joel Dobris (Professor of Law, UC Davis School of Law) for brining this to my attention.


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