With regard to the devolution of property upon death, it may be remarked that the law of intestate succession applies equally to real and personal estate, there being no law of primogeniture.
When either husband or wife dies intestate one-third of the separate real estate of the deceased goes to the survivor if there are two or more children, one-half of it if there is only one child, the whole of it if there are no children, no issue of children, and no father, mother, brother or sister.
They are very bulky, and with the exception of a few, particularly the 116th and 118th, which introduce the most sweeping and laudable reforms into the law of intestate succession, are much more interesting, as supplying materials for the history of the time, social, economical and ecclesiastical, than in respect of any purely legal merits.
If the intestate leaves issue but no husband or wife, the issue takes the whole.
The descent of the estate of a husband dying intestate is the same as that of a wife dying intestate; if there is only one child, or the issue of only one child, the surviving spouse is entitled to one-half of the estate; if more than one child, to one-third of the estate; and if no children, father, mother, brother or sister, to the whole of the estate.
Failing natural heirs of an intestate freedman, the master, now patron, succeeded to his property at his death; and he could dispose by will of only half his possessions, the patron receiving the other half.
When a wife dies leaving a husband of whom there has been issue born alive, he has by the courtesy a life interest in all her real estate and all her personal estate; if the wife die intestate and leave no other heirs the husband is entitled to all her real estate in fee simple.
A married woman may hold, acquire and dispose of property as if she were single, and the descent of the estate of a husband dying intestate is the same as that of a wife dying intestate, the survivor being entitled to onethird of the estate if there are one or more children, and to one-half of the estate if there are no children or other lineal descendants.
When a wife dies intestate leaving a husband and issue the husband has the use of all her real estate for life, and the personal estate is divided among the husband and children share and share alike; if there be no issue the husband has the use of all her real estate for life and all her personal estate absolutely; if the wife leaves a will the husband has the choice between its terms and his right by courtesy.
The policy of many, particularly of those which deal with ecclesiastical matters, may also be condemned; yet some gratitude is due to the legislator who put the law of intestate succession on that plain and rational footing whereon it has ever since continued to stand.