Inheritance for women through the 1800’s – 1926

How would you like to give all that you earn and any inheritance to your husband? It seems alien to us today that this could have been the case. In the 1800’s up until 1869 if a married woman earned a wage or inherited money, it became the property of her husband. This was the case from the early thirteenth century until 1870. English Common Law set out that most of the property of the wife, owned as a feme sole, became the husbands, upon marriage.

Did you know that if a woman was to marry the dowry from the bride’s father was to be used for his daughter’s financial support throughout her married life. In the event of her husband dying before her, the wife lost her identity and became legally absorbed into that of her husband. The wife had no legal claim to her property or money and the law saw husband and wife as one person: with the husband having full control. This left the wife at her husband’s mercy and he could do whatever he wanted with any and all of her property. 

An influential women’s rights activist in the 1850’s was Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon (1827-1891). Barbara along with other women’s rights activists fought tirelessly to reform the law around women owning property. Eventually the Married Women’s Property Act 1870 gave married women protection of the property that was earned or inherited, with some restrictions regarding the time of acquiring the property. This was then superseded by the Married Women’s Property Act 1882 which gave women further protection and stopped the husband or his employees having any claim on her property. These Acts empowered women and enabled them to live with their children, away from their husbands; and earn money to support themselves and their family.

The Law of Property Act (1922) was a reform one step further and allowed a husband and wife to inherit each other’s property. This Act also gave them equal rights to inherit the property of intestate children. In 1926 there was further legislation passed allowing women to “hold and dispose of property” in the same way men were allowed. 

There have been considerable changes to the law throughout history and how women fought to change the law to make it equal and fair on inheriting and keeping their property and/or earnings. Considering these reforms and changes how can you now protect what you have earned and worked for? You can protect what you have earned and worked for by writing a Will.

In 1837 the Wills Act came into effect which set out the formalities for a valid Will. Prior to the Act Wills did not have any regular form or structure. Things have moved on and a properly executed Will is a document used to give what you own to who you want, otherwise the law of intestacy takes over, which we shall cover in a future blog.

Have you made your Will or have you reviewed if it is more than five years old? Circumstances change and it’s important to revise your Will to keep it up to date with current legislation and estate planning.

Contact us at Avalon Legal to discuss making your Will. It’s such an important document and one that secures the future of those you choose to inherit from you. 

Our contact details are

Avalon Legal

07506 583669

© Karen Wells – May 2020

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