Because most of us are going about our normal days at work, home, and school, it’s easy to forget that today is (already!) the second Monday in October, which means that it’s Columbus Day.

I, too, almost glazed over the holiday, but it got me thinking: if Columbus had the opportunity to estate plan, how would he have gone about it? Naturally, I dug a bit deeper into his history and realized that, between his love life, two sons (one illegitimate), and the “Columbian Lawsuits,” it would have been a job only a Probate Pro could handle!

Married + Mistress = MESS!

Columbus originally married Filipa Moniz Perestrelo who, around 1480, gave birth to Columbus’ first son, Diego Columbus. Roughly five years later, Filipa died in Portugal, their homeland, while Columbus was away on business in Castile. Columbus went back to Portugal only to settle Filipa’s estate and take his son Diego. He and Diego left Portugal to re-establish life in Castile, where Columbus met 20-year-old orphan Beatriz Enriquez de Arana in 1487. Less than a year later, Beatriz gave birth to Columbus’ second son, Fernando Columbus.

Disregarded by Diego

Columbus entrusted his oldest son, Diego, to take care of Beatriz and pay the pension he set aside for her upon his death. As you probably could have guessed, Diego did not do so. In May of 1506, Columbus died in Spain around the age of 54 after several years of illnesses. While we don’t know what came of Beatriz or Fernando, the law has never looked favorably at unwritten promises. Further, European law, with little separation of church and state at that time, was less than fond of acknowledging mistresses and illegitimate children.

Crowning a Winner?

Shortly before his death in Spain, Columbus had demanded in the Capitulations of Santa Fe that the Spanish Crown give him 10 percent of all profits made off of the new land he had discovered. But because Columbus was relieved of his duties as governor, the Crown felt no obligation to adhere to this contract.

After Columbus’ death, his heirs (most likely Diego and/or Fernando) sued the Crown for a portion of the profits made, among other rewards, from the trade with America. This led to long series of legal disputes known as the pleitos colombinos, or the “Columbian Lawsuits.”

In 1492, Sailing Probate was Blue. Since 1994, We’ve Helped Probate Soar!

Working in probate for so long, I have seen and worked on some pretty messy family affairs. While Columbus’ situation seemed so complicated back then, today’s blended families and single parent households really aren’t all that much different when it comes down to taking care of family. It would have actually been a fairly easy process had Columbus been able to create what we commonly refer to as an estate plan.

Putting Columbus’ biography into a contemporary context, he and Filipa should have put most of their assets into a Trust, so everything would have been transferred rather smoothly to Diego and their estates may have avoided any tax. While hindsight is 20/20, we know that Filipa died young while Diego himself was just a boy, and Columbus travelled the world at a time when he was, well, an explorer. By definition, it wasn’t a certainty that he would return.

Arguably the most glaring issue with Columbus’ idea of estate planning was to entrust his eldest son, first heir to any fortune, with the responsibility of caring and paying for his mistress after he died. And history has been repeating itself for over 500 years because blended families today make the same planning mistake – failure to plan!

Back to contemporary times, Columbus could have amended his Trust after Filipa’s death to include Beatriz and Fernando. To be fairer to both of his sons, a Trust could have been established to protect any inheritances that Columbus wanted them to have. He could have even named a Trustee to manage each son’s money until they came of a more responsible age, and a guardian to properly care for and morally navigate them through life if they were minors at his death. Likewise, he could have set funds aside for Beatriz for her wellbeing.

A History Lesson in Thanks!

Whether you acknowledge Columbus Day or treat it as any other day, I think a good takeaway is to appreciate how far we, as a society, have come in terms how much more power and control we have over our lives (and deaths!) than we did 500 years ago.

Let us help you carry out your legacy much better than Columbus was able to carry out his by getting started with an estate plan. The consultation is free – you have nothing to lose! or 248.399.3300.