Understanding a Life Estate and How it Can Affect Probate

As we saw in our previous two posts, one source of information for the Cutchin (Cutchen) family states that Thomas Cutchen dies before his father’s estate can be probated, however, we also found that Thomas was mentioned in his mother’s estate a decade later.  So today we will look at the probate process for both Samuel and Mourning Cutchen and try and see how the probate process, and a life estate for a widow worked.  Note: The name Cutchin, Cutchens and Cutchen are used interchangeably, often in the same document and are all the same name.


In 1829, Samuel Cutchens wrote a will, which in part stated:

Secondly I loan to my beloved wife Morning Cutchen my dwelling house and thirty six acres of land on the west end of my land whereon I now live and one field of about eight acres near to where my son Thomas Cutchens now lives as her dower during her natural life time and give and bequeath to my beloved wife Morning Cutchens her heirs and assigns forever one negro woman by the name of Diner also one bed and furniture bedstead and cord one horse beast the choice of my stock of horses one side saddle and bridle one cow and calf two years and lambs one cotton wheel one pair cards one flax wheel one sugar chest one large iron kettle one dutch oven and hooks two smoothing irons one case of bottles one table one tub one bread tray six pewter plates one pewter dish one butter pot three chairs loom and gear one ? and one years provision be allotted off to her and family from and after my decease of such as are on hands or growing.

Thirdly I give and bequeath to my son Thomas Cutchens the land and plantations whereon I now live all except the dower of my wife and I also at her death give the dower with all the Tract containing one hundred and thirty acres be the same more or less to him the said Thomas Cutchens his heirs and assigns forever…

So at his death some time around October 1830, son, Thomas was to receive his father’s plantation minus 44 acres of land that was to be the life estate of his wife Mourning Cutchens.  At her death, Thomas would receive the total of the 136 acres of land.


In 1830, we find Thomas Cutchin age 30-40 living next door to Samuel Cutchin, age 70-80.  We know that the 1830 census was taken as of 01 June 1830, so that fits with Samuel dying around October 1830. A few houses down is Elisha Fly, who married Elizabeth Cutchin.  Elizabeth is named as Elizabeth Fly in her mother’s will. So we can be reasonably sure that this is our Thomas and Samuel Cutchin. 

In January 1831, Thomas Cutchen and Benajah Gray produce the inventory of Samuel Cutchen. Thomas Cutchen is very much alive at the time the Davidson County, TN court met in January 1831. Samuel has died around October 1830 and this time period is normal for a probate process for all the documents to be in order to produce an inventory for the court.   Notes for John A Procktor and Alexander Carper, Samuel’s son-in-laws make it pretty obvious that this is indeed the correct Samuel Cutchen.  It is also obvious from the inventory, that Samuel Cutchen was running a large estate. The inventory mentions items that we given to the widow as part of her yearly provision.  It was recorded 18 February 1831.



In April 1831, Benajah Gray and Thomas Cutchen provided to the court a list of the account of sales of the estate of Samuel Cutchen.  Listed as purchasing were John A. Procktor, Thomas Cutchens, Morning Cutchens, Susan Cutchens, Alexandeer Carper, Elisha Fly and many others.  This is definitely the correct Samuel Cutchens.

Samuel Cutchin Sale Page 1 Samuel Cutchin Sale Page 2

On the January Term 1831, Benajah Gray and Thomas Cutchen filed the Settlement of the estate of Samuel Cutchen, deceased. It was recorded in court 19 April 1831.  The sales of the estate had brought in $3511 and 60 cents! They paid $10.00 for his coffin.  After all debts were paid, the Executors, Benajah Gray and Thomas Cutchen owed the estate $4222.94!  The final settlement of the estate of Samuel Cutchen was proven in open court in January 1832.  His son Thomas  was alive to settle with the court.


Samuel Cutchin Settlement


On Wednesday, September 19, 1832, the TN General Assembly passed a bill to enable the executors of Samuel Cutchin dec’d to bring from the state of Virginia a grandson of said Cutchin.  It does not state the name of the grandson.  Samuel’s will mentions several grandchildren. Most likely this was one of the sons of William Cutchen, whom is mentioned in his father’s will as deceased. His two sons, William and Samuel are to receive part of a lot of land.

Mourning Cutchen writes her will 15 June 1839.  She wills Dinah to her son Thomas and daughter Elzalina to share and the household goods to her daughters Sarah and Elizabeth. Obviously Thomas Cutchin was still alive in June 1839.

The 1840 census shows Mourning Cutchin living in Davidson County, TN. A few houses up the page is John A. Proctor, her son-in-law.  Thomas Cutchin is not enumerated.  My guess is that he passed away after his mother’s will was written in June 1839, but before the census taker enumerated the 1840 census in Jun 1840.  Thomas Cutchin was to receive his mother’s life estate at her death.  She dies sometime around August 1841.  Because her son was already deceased, her life estate would then revert to his heirs.  I was not able to find a will for Thomas Cutchin.  No Cutchins sold land in Davidson County during this time period.  More research will be required to discover where the land went after Thomas Cutchin’s death.



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