Page images

than one.

the cousins on the father's side.” This, no doubt, is an unexceptionable proof of what all are aware of, viz. :-that the statutes of distribution occasionally work unfairly; and, had the SolicitorGeneral been advocating an amendment of these statutes, the case would have been in point quantum valeat. But, for our part, we can see no difference in this respect, whether the intestate inherited from his mother an estate, or a hundred thousand pounds in the three pounds per centum consolidated bank annuities.

“Take," continued the Solicitor-General, “the case of a large family estate descending to a married woman who had more sons

She had no power to devise ; and if this bill (which was said to be for the children) passed, that estate would be taken away from the sons and be given to the husband, who had a statutory right to administer to his wife's property.”

We again say, compare with the above hard case anothernamely, that of a hundred thousand pounds devolving upon a married woman without restriction. Would not the whole of this at once belong to the husband? The Solicitor-General's second case, therefore, would be a strong one to cite (if, indeed, such cases are of any worth) in favour of an alteration in the law as regards the rights of the husband in the property of his wife ; but neither of the cases so fluently suggested by the eloquent lawofficer of the crown, had any thing whatever to do with the principle involved in Mr. Locke King's bill. But, of course, these observations passed muster, and will be repeated probably whenever the question is again discussed, without hesitation by the one side, or exposure by the other.

The rest of the speech of the Solicitor-General contained no argument which will bear examination. Mr. Lowe truly said, “In the course of the Solicitor-General's lengthened remarks, he had not been able to gather up the question into a single point, nor to show any clear and decisive ground on which the bill should be resisted."

Nor were any of the other debaters much more successful. Sir George C. Lewis said : -“When a person made a settlement or a will, whatever provision he made for younger children out of his

real property was so much to their benefit, in addition to what the common law would give them; and therefore, if a large portion was given to the eldest son, and smaller portions to the younger sons and daughters, no feeling of injustice arose, because the portions under the ordinary marriage settlement for the benefit of the younger children were so much in addition to what they would have by descent according to common law. They could have no reason for complaining of injustice or partiality on the part of their parents ; but, if this bill became law, that feeling would be entirely inverted. A person who made a marriage settlement, according to the present system of marriage settlements, would be robbing the younger children of the rights which the common law would give them. He would be accumulating upon the head of the eldest son property which was given to him, as it were, capriciously, arbitrarily, and unjustly, in addition to what he would derive in case of intestacy under the com. mon law. Perhaps in our time no great practical change would arise out of that state of things. He durst say, the custom of making marriage settlements might be extended to another generation ; but he apprehended that the

younger children would feel that they had been robbed of their rights, and that after a time the custom of distributing real estate among the children would obtain."

How is it, we would ask Sir G. C. Lewis, when a testator now leaves his real estate to be divided among all his children, and thus robs his eldest son of the rights which the common law gives bim, that the eldest son is not heard to complain of injustice ? Ought not Sir George Lewis's argument to apply equally well either way? Or is it that Sir George Lewis has a lurking feeling that injustice is really done to younger children when the eldest son takes the lion's share of the paternal estate ; but that it is proper, and for the benefit of the country, that all such feeling should be suppressed? If this be the opinion of the landed gentry, then all we have to say is, that any system which is based on what its supporters feel, but dare not confess to be, injustice, must necessarily be a bad and sinful one, and ought not to be tolerated by members of a Christian community.

In England, the right (with certain limitations) of a living person to have a voice as to the channels in which property he possesses should flow after he is dead, is conceded. With the abstract and inherent right of a man having a word to say to the control of this world's goods when he himself is in another, we have nothing to do. The legal right, which is also in accordance with a very general sense of moral right, gives the owner a post mortem distributing power over property. Hence, if the landed gentry choose to endow their eldest sons with their estates, we can see no special unfairness in their so doing.

Practically speaking, the proposed modification would not in any way affect this class of persons. They would go on making their wills and settlements as heretofore. Are the great landowners of Kent, where equality of partition among sons is the rule of descent, found to dispose of their estates differently to the landowners of other counties?

As regards persons of the middle class, it cannot be disputed that they are generally in favour of an equality of division. The majority of the wills of persons of this class clearly shows this to be the case. But it would be by no means wise to hold out an inducement to them not to make wills, and this measure would operate as such an inducement. Intestacies among them are now not very frequent, and are becoming less so every day ; but the measure in question would undoubtedly tend to increase their number. It is well recognised that a man, in disposing of his property by will in favour of his family, benefits them far more than he would do by suffering it to devolve upon them by intestacy; and it is now generally understood beyond the legal profession what the disadvantages of intestacy are ; how, for example, the duties payable on taking out administration to the effects of an intestate are higher than those payable on the probate of a will; that a will is easily proved ; that the appointed executor enters into no bond, and requires no sureties; whilst, an administrator may be required to procure a surety, or more than one surety, to join with him in an administrative bond-a matter which is not always found to be quite so easy as at first sight

may appear. Then, again, the “Handy Book,” or “handier attorney,” will have explained to the “man of property,” that the executor has, or ought to have, much greater powers of dealing with the estate of the testator in respect of the shares of minors, &c., than an administrator would have; and, generally, the disadvantages under which the family of an intestate labours, especially if there happen to be many young children, are so notoriously great, that the state ought to do every thing in its power to induce persons not to leave their property to devolve by intestacy. It is but idleness, carelessness, cowardice, or obstinacy, which induces persons to delay making their wills; and for these, who are a small minority, the state need hardly be required to legislate.

It is, then, the poorer class—the class of small landed proprietors—those who possess a small cottage and an acre or two of land -piece, of whom it is said there are 300,000 in this country —that would alone be materially affected by this measure, for they seldom, if ever, execute wills. Mr. Locke King thinks these poor persons are seriously injured by the present system, and would be benefited by its modification. We not only doubt this; but we say, so far as experience and evidence are worth any thing on a speculative proposition like this, that the reverse is the truth, and the class in question would inevitably suffer. But the lawyer and the government would frequently be benefited, at the expense and sometimes ruin of the client.

In the first place, in every case an administration would be necessary where now none is required. The yeoman, with his attorney, must go to one of Sir Richard Bethell's district registries, and there take out administration to the estate of the intestate, who probably may have left nothing in the world but his cottage and patch of land; a surety or not may be required at the option of the district registrar, and the yeoman may or may not come prepared with, or be able to provide, such an article.

But the obtaining of the letters of administration would be but a light and easy matter, as compared with the troubles and liabilities which the unfortunate administrator would incur in dealing with the little property vested in him. Would Mr. Locke King

have the cottage pulled down and the bricks divided, and the land parcelled out into little strips and thin slices? Probably not. Well, then, supposing all the next of kin are capable and willing to concur in some arrangement, there are but three courses open to the administrator :-(1) the property can be sold ; or (2) one or more of the next of kin can take the land and pay out the rest; or (3) it may be let.

In the first case, the expenses of the sale, together with those of administration, would leave but little to be divided. The widow, for whom Mr. Locke King so urgently pleads, would be turned out of the house in which she may have resided during all her wedded life, and each of the next of kin of the intestate would become possessed of a small sum of money, the greater part of which would in many cases be frittered away, and sometimes, we fear, pass by a very ready-money transaction into the hands of the nearest publican.

In the second case, money must be raised. How can this be done but by mortgage ? Here, again, step in the processes of the law, its costs, and outgoings. A deed of mortgage must be prepared, as also a conveyance to those of the next of kin who elect to take the land, and perhaps a release to the administrator, who would not be safe without it, at least so says the legal adviser. The expenses incident to these proceedings must either be shared by all the next of kin, or—which would amount to the same thing-must be taken into account in the valuation of the property, and be raised by the mortgage. These expenses would at least equal those which would have been incurred had a sale been determined on; and the few pounds which law and the lawyers would leave, would soon slip through the fingers of those who are paid out without bringing commensurate advantage to

while those who keep the land would be hampered with a heavy mortgage-heavier, perhaps, than the property can bear. In a bad


interest would fall in arrear—the land would be sold, and one of the valuable body of ancient freeholders be thus struck off.

In the cases we have mentioned, the attorney, however mode


« PreviousContinue »