Friday, September 18, 2020

Theodor Plath's Last Will and Testament

Theodor Plath, Sylvia Plath's paternal grandfather, died on Nov. 5, 1918. He had filed his will (No. 2876) in Clark County, Washington State, on May 26, 1918. It's worth reading, and there's a surprise inside:

IN THE NAME OF GOD, AMEN! I, Theodor Plath, being of sound and disposing mind and memory, and not acting under the fraud, duress or influence of any person or persons, make this will.

I request that all my just debts against my estate including my funeral expenses and the expenses of my last sickness be promptly paid.

I give to my beloved wife Earnestine $100.00.

I give to my son Otto $1.00.

I give to my son Paul $1.00.

I give to my son Max $1.00.

I give to my son Hugo $1.00.

I give to my daughter Martha $1.00.

All the rest and residue of my property which I may own, die possessed of, or have a right to dispose of at my death I give and devise to my daughter Frieda.

I hereby appoint my son Max executor of this last will and request that no bonds be required of him, as such, by any Court or Judge.

Theodor Plath (SEAL)

Signed and sealed by Theodor Plath, testator, and by him declared to be his last will in our presence, who have hereunto subscribed our names as witnesses in his presence and in the presence of each other at his request, at Oregon City, Oregon, this 26th day of May 1918.

Witnesses: Maud Davis (of Oregon City), Annie Stribley (of Portland, OR). [1]

Five days before filing this will, on May 21, 1918, Theodor Plath had filed at the Vancouver [WA] Land Office a Homestead Act claim (aka "patent") to 120 acres in Clark County, Washington, near Salmon Creek, a bit north of Portland, Oregon. [2] As Homestead Act land it was free, although the owner was given a certain number of years to improve it. U.S. homesteading, mostly on formerly Indian lands, was available from 1862 to 1976. Below, in the orange square within the square, is Theodor Plath's 1918 property:

and, from the Bureau of Land Management, Theodor's title or "patent" on that land, dated 5/21/1918. Of course the land has been bought and sold since then:

Bequeathing children $1.00 was not always a "disinheritance" or insult. Were that the case, Theodor probably wouldn't have named his son Max as his will's executor. Theodor might have distributed his assets already, and the will was a formality. Or the $1.00 acknowledged that the offspring were self-supporting adults, or proved that the testator was sound enough of mind to list all family members and give them a token. Frieda Plath, the youngest, in 1918 was 21 or 22 years old and in a Chicago nursing school. Sylvia met her Aunt Frieda in 1959 and liked her. Ernestine Plath, Sylvia's paternal grandmother, in 1918 was in an Oregon mental hospital and survived Theodor by less than one year.

According to a March 1980 letter from Aurelia Plath to Mary Ann Montgomery, Otto Plath owned property in San Francisco that he sold or otherwise tended to while the Plaths were on their honeymoon. Any record has yet to be found.

[1] Washington State Archives (Olympia, Washington); Probate Place: Clark, Washington, pp. 112-113.


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