We’ve previously written about estate disputes over personal assets held in a trust or investment account. In some cases, however, estate disputes revolve around ownership right to family heirlooms or historical artifacts that have been passed down through generations.

One such dispute is currently being heard in probate court. At issue are numerous artifacts that previously belonged to the late Gideon Welles. During the Civil War, Welles served as the Secretary of the Navy and therefore had a personal relationship with then President Abraham Lincoln.

Many of the historical artifacts owned by Welles were eventually passed down to his grandson whose wife, Ruth Trost Welles, inherited them upon her husband’s death. When Ruth Welles died, she left the remaining artifacts to her children. The descendants of Ruth Welles’s children are now in probate court, alleging her estate was mishandled upon her death in 1955.

At the center of the case are several artifacts of historical significance that some of the heirs believe were either kept or sold by relatives who likely split the profits. Included in the list of disputed items is a cane given to the late Welles by President Lincoln, a rifle known to have been shot by Lincoln and a box of Civil War era swords.

Many of those items described by some of Rose Trost Welles’s heirs were not, however, included in the list of items from her estate. Other heirs seeking to put an end to the probate dispute argue these items were among those that were previously sold. A judge overseeing the case has agreed to effectively redo the probate case.

Source: The Hartford Courant, “Public Family Feud Over Lincoln-Era Artifacts Begins In Court,” Christine Dempsey, Oct. 8, 2013