George T. Smith, railroad conductor with the Southern Railway Company, lived in Virginia, and died there in December of 1908.

He was survived by his father Samuel Smith, and his widow Lula Smith, who he referred to affectionately as Lous.

At first, no one could find a will for Mr. Smith until his sister and widow went through a trunk filled with his belongings. They found a booklet published by Mr. Smith's former employee, the Southern Railway Company, and opened it.

There, on the otherwise blank first page, was written in pencil in George's handwriting:

"Dec. 24, 1900. Every thing is Lous."

The inscription was in pencil and seemed to suggest that two different pencils had been used to complete it.

Lula Smith proposed to probate her late-husband's estate based on this will but her father-in-law, Samuel Smith objected, presumably because an intestate distribution would provide him with something, whereas "everything is Lous" didn't.

The matter went before a jury in Virginia which found in favor of the widow but Mr. Smith, senior, appealed and George T. Smith's 7-word will was placed before Justice Cardwell of the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia in 1911.

Was it a will; had it been intended by Mr. Smith Jr. to be taken by the distribution of his estate entirely to his widow?

The father argued that something was suspicious with the fact that two different pencils had been used and also that there was nothing in the inscription to suggest a gift or a testamentary disposition. It was just as possible, he suggested, that the deceased had simply intended by the mysterious words to state that everything belonged to his wife at that time, 1900.

Of course, it also did not make sense that Mr. Smith Jr. would have any reason to state the simple ownership of family property in 1900 but when an estate of some value is at issue in a court of law, a weak argument is better than no argument. As they say in ice hockey, shoot the puck at the net and good things will happen.

Still, whether or not the inscription was intended to be a will will only ever truly be known by the decedent himself especially since the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia rejected the arguments made by the widow, and in spite of the decision of the jury in the court below, and concluded that:

"The paper here in question cannot be maintained as the last will and testament of George T. Smith."

Lous was robbed and so, too, was legal history of one of the most unusual wills ever. But if Justice Cardwell was wrong in overturning the decision of the jury in the Court below, as is just as likely given that there is no other explanation for the inscription except as a testamentary device, then the cover-page, 7-word will of George T. Smith of Virginia deserves a place in the Hall of Famous Wills.

REFERENCES:

  • Smith v Smith, 70 S.E. 491