Remsen on Wills

It’s not land use, but I recently started reading an excellently written 1907 primer on the law of estate planning and trusts, The Preparation and Contest of Wills, by Daniel S. Remsen. It often strikes me how well the authors of a century ago were able to tackle complex subjects with both precision and clarity, in contrast to the blather that characterizes a lot of today’s law books. It’s also interesting to see how much the essential doctrines of common law property have stayed the same, and have continued to dominate their field (land use, of course, being a major exception), in contrast to the statutization that’s taken place in areas like commercial or criminal law. That is to say, other than the always-idiosyncratic specifics of taxes and local procedures, Remsen’s book tracks the same issues that any current hornbook on estate planning would cover, and most of the rules he describes still remain in effect. To illustrate his exposition of the law, Remsen includes an appendix containing 78 wills and trust settlements made by 19th century luminaries, including Jay Gould, August Belmont, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and Leland Stanford. You can’t make this stuff up.

One of the most valuable online resources is the seemingly endless selection of old law books that have gone into the public domain, and are now available in PDF through Google Books. Everything from Story on Equity to Wigmore on Evidence can be found there. And it’s all free.