John Brown’s Intestacy





Posted by M. K. Waller


I first posted this piece on Telling the Truth, Mainly in 2010. This seems like a good time to bring it around again.


On Old Olympus’ Towering Tops A Finn and German Viewed Some Hops.

Some Say Marry Money But My Brother Says Bad Business, My, My.


I learned the above mnemonics in a human anatomy and physiology class about a thousand years ago. The first relates to the names of the cranial nerves, in order. The second relates to the functions of the cranial nerves: sensory, motor, or both.

English: Cranial Nerves
English: Cranial Nerves (Photo credit: Wikipedia). By Government [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The memory aids worked well for me for exams on the nervous system. That was back in the days when I could remember which of the three O’s is optic, which olfactory, which… the other one. And whether the trochlear nerve or the trigeminal comes first in Towering Tops. The catch is that if you list the nerves in the wrong order, you’ll assign the wrong functions too. At least that’s how I think it works. But that was in 1971. Do not take my word for it.

At this point, I need a mnemonic to remember the mnemonics.

When I was in paralegal school back in Aught Three, I wrote a mnemonic of my own. It explains intestate succession–who gets what when a Texan dies without leaving a valid will–as laid out in the Texas Probate Code. One of our instructors had warned the class that students usually considered probate the most difficult part of the program, so I thought a little extra help when exam time rolled around might be in order.

Composing the mnemonic took the better part of an afternoon. It required that I not only observe restrictions imposed by rime and meter, but that I also strictly adhere to the provisions of the Code. There was no wiggle room.

At the end of the day, I was pleased. Aside from a couple of rhythmic aberrations, all the lines scanned, the rime scheme was satisfactory, and the targeted provisions of the Code  were covered.

It was a pretty good song.

But it was a pretty bad mnemonic. It was long and complicated. I could have completed an entire exam in the time it took me to sing (silently) down to the second chorus.

It was easier to just learn the Code.

I posted this little flash of creativity on the class’ online bulletin board. My old biology classmates would have read it and applauded. My paralegal classmates looked at me funny.

But funny looks don’t bother me. I spent years in education. I’m used to them.

So, at the risk of getting several more, I present a bit of law in verse.

Disclaimer: The content of the following composition was accurate as of November 1, 2003. The song does not reflect changes in the law since that date. Neither does it represent a legal opinion, nor is it intended to offer counsel or advice. Its appearance on this blog does not constitute practicing law without a license.


Cover of sheet music for "John Brown's So...
Cover of sheet music for “John Brown’s Song” by William Steffe, Chicago: Root & Cady, 1861 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


 John Brown’s Intestacy

By M. K. Waller

(To be sung to the tune of John Brown’s Body, aka The Battle Hymn of the Republic).


John Brown died and went to heaven but forgot to make a will.
His intestate succession now the Probate Code will tell.
Was he married, was he single, do his kids sit ‘round the ingle?
Had he common prop. or sep.?

Glory, glory, Texas Probate!
Separate property Section 38!
Common property Section 45!
Make a will while you’re alive!


If John’s married and he leaves a wife, no kids, or kids they share,
Then 45(a)1 leaves wife all common prop. that’s there.
But if he has an extra kid, wife ends up with just half
And the kids share all the rest.

Glory, glory 45(b)!
Don’t omit Section 43!
By the cap or by the stirpes,
Wife shares it with the kids!


For separate prop., if he’s no wife, it goes to kids or grands.
If none of those, John’s parents halve the personal and lands.
If only mom or pop lives, the surviving one takes half.
John’s siblings share the rest.

Glory! Both John’s folks are deceased–
All his sibs will share the increase,
And if no siblings, 38(a)4 means
They’ll need a family tree.


If John has separate prop. and leaves a wife and kids or grands,
38(b)1 gives wife one-third of personal prop. at hand,
And a one-third interest just for life in houses and in lands.
Descendants take the rest.

Glory, glory 38(b)1!
It’s one-third/two-thirds division!
But if John leaves a wife but no kids,
Section 38(b)2 applies!

V. – VII.

John’s wife gets all his personal prop. and half the real estate.
The other half of real estate goes back to 38—
38(a), to be exact, and up the family tree,
Unless his gene pool’s defunct.

For if John Brown was an only child with parents absentee,
No brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, or cousins on the tree,
No grandparents or great-grandparents to grab a moiety,
His wife will get it all.

BUT if John Brown leaves this life with naught a soul to say, “Amen,”
The Probate Code’s escheat will neatly tie up all the ends:
The Lone Star State will step right up to be John’s kith and kin,
And Texas takes it all!

Glory, glory Texas Probate!
Slicing up poor John Brown’s estate!
Avoid the Legislature’s dictate:
Make a will while you’re alive!


M. K. Waller blogs at Telling the Truth, Mainly and at Austin Mystery Writers. Her stories appear in MURDER ON WHEELS (Wildside, 2015), on Mysterical-E, and in other publications. Her story “I’ll Be a Sunbeam” will appear in Kaye George‘s DAY OF THE DARK, to be released by Wildside Press on July 21, 2017, a month before the upcoming total solar eclipse on August 21.


12 thoughts on “John Brown’s Intestacy

  1. Interesting post, Kathy — I’ve not heard of mnemonics so I’ve not applied this principle. I know as I age, the memory lapses more frequently, so this is a tip I just might try! Thanks for an educational post and good luck creating more mnemonics!! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I truly enjoyed your blog. I love mnemonics, but don’t think I could have memorized the one you wrote! That’s quite a feat–memorizing and writing it. Loved it. I have tried to always use them to memorize also.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Glory Hallelujah, I do love what you did. Of course it was a bit weird as I sang it at my desk at work during break. But hey, loved it. Now, I may have to look into this option for the future. *Grin*. Thanks for a great, fun and educational post. Doris

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You sang it? Wow. I think you’re the first to do that. It’s a weird song anyway.I was setting the Dewey Decimal Schedules to the same tune but got hung up on the 900s and then lost my copy. Thanks for commenting.


  4. Kathy, this is cute. It reminds me of a parody my classmates and I sang in elementary school to the tune of “Battlehymn of the Republic,” which is the same as “John Brown’s Body.”

    Mine eyes have seen the glory of the burning of the school.
    We have turtured every teacher. We have broken every rule.
    We have shot the principal, and then we flushed him down the stool.
    We go marching on.

    Glory glory what’s it to ya.
    Teacher hit me with a ruler.
    Met her at the door with a loaded 44,
    and she don’t teach no more.


  5. This is about the weirdest post I’ve seen in Writing Wranglers & Warriors ever, but I loved it. I liked the ditty done to ‘John Brown’s body lies a mouldering in the grave.’ I’m not sure if John Brown’s in Heaven or Hell; well, wherever he is, if he could read your words, I wonder what he would think. The dude didn’t think much of the South, so I imagine the words of your mnemonic, since it deals with Texas law. I’ve been to Harper’s Ferry where Brown tried to instigate a slave rebellion just before the Civil War.


  6. Very creative. I loved it. I don’t know much about Probate Court, or any other court for that matter, but it sounded believable to me. You did a great job. I need all the memory help I can get. Thanks for sharing. Cher’ley


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