Making a Will is a serious business, right? It details how you wish your estate to be distributed, who benefits and by how much.
… because our last post Weird Probate Issues was so popular, here we go again …
But we can still chuckle at the efforts of other people when they outrageously stuff-up their own estate plans. (We’ll suppress our schadenfreude with the thought that this is all educational. ‘Schadenfreude’ is the German term for the guilty pleasure derived from another person’s misfortune.)
Here are a few of the strangest bequests and most bizarre stipulations found in some weird and wacky Wills.
1. To My Wife – My Second-Best Bed
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, 1616
In his Will, the Bard left his daughters £150 each – about $500,000 in today’s money. His wife, Anne Hathaway, however, only got his second-best bed. Poor Mrs Shakespeare has gone down in history as being snubbed by the Bard from beyond the grave. It wasn’t uncommon in the 17th Century to bequeath your bed to someone in your Will and, if reports are true Shakespeare’s second best bed was a rather grand four poster. But, to only be left the second best one from your beloved must surely have been a bit of a poke in the eye. Begs the question, of course, who got the best bed?
2. A Dog’s Life
LEONA HELMSLEY, 2004
Infamous for being horrible, Leona Helmsley was the original Queen of Mean, as well as a convicted tax dodger who proclaimed: “We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.” Her Will left instructions for much of her $4.5billion fortune to be spent caring for dogs, which included $12 million to her dog Trouble. This was later reduced down to $2m by a judge.
3. Dog Day Afternoon
ELEANOR RITCHEY, 1968
When she died in 1968 Ms Ritchey left her entire $4.5 million fortune to her 150 dogs. Her Will was contested and when it was finally settled in 1973, the value of her estate had jumped to $14 million and by this time there were only 73 dogs still alive who had to share it. When the last pampered pooch died in 1984 the remainder of the estate went to the Auburn University Research Foundation for research into animal diseases.
4. Once You Pop
FREDERICK BAUR, 2008
Mr Baur is the man who gave us the Pringle Tube – that dangerously addictive weird potato snack. So proud was Mr Baur of his contribution to the global snack market that when he died he wanted to be buried in a tube. He was cremated and his ashes interred in a regular sized ORIGINAL flavour tube.
5. What A Hangover
JANIS JOPLIN 1970
Hard drinking Janis Joplin left $2,500 so that her friends could get blasted one last time after she was gone.
6. A Boozy Boys’ Weekend
ROGER BROWN 2015
We all like to think that our friends will raise a glass to us when we’ve gone, but Roger Brown made sure of it. The 67-year-old lost his life to prostate cancer in 2013, leaving behind a secret bequest of about $5,000 to seven of his closest friends, with the proviso that they use it for a boozy weekend away.
“We would like to formally apologise to Roger’s two sons, Sam and Jack, for taking away some of their inheritance,” beneficiary Roger Rees told the local newspaper after the friends spent a weekend in Berlin. “We spent most of it on beer, the rest we wasted.”
7. Buried Treasure?
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON, 1894
In 1891 Mr Stevenson learned that the 12 year old daughter of an acquaintance of his – was unhappy that her birthday fell on Christmas Day. So in his Will he bequeathed his birthday – 13th November – to her. She was the allowed to assume that date as her own birthday on the occasion that he no longer had use for it.
8. What I Got For My Wife
JACK BENNY, 1974
Legendary US comedian Jack Benny left an unusual but touching instruction in his Will when he died in 1974. His wife of 47 years, Mary Livingstone did not die with him. So committed was he to his beloved that in his Will he left provision for a local florist to deliver one long stemmed rose to Mary every day until she died. She outlived him by 10 years – that’s a whole lot of roses. (BTW, “What I got for my wife was one of Jack’s corniest running gags).
9. Dial I For Inheritance
LUIS CARLOS DE NORONHA CABRAL DE CAMARA
Senor de Camara was a wealthy but unhappy man, and seemed determined on drinking himself into an early grave. Never married and with no heirs, he simply chose 70 names at random out of the local directory and left his considerable estate to these strangers. When he died his lawyers called the 70 lucky beneficiaries and told them of their random windfall. His calls were met with some suspicion….
10. I Zink You Nuts
TM ZINK, 1930
Iowa attorney and self-confessed woman hater TM Zink left his wife nothing and his daughter just $5. The rest of his considerable fortune was earmarked to open a very special library from which woman were strictly prohibited from entering. His Will specified that signs stating ‘No women permitted’ must be placed above every door. His plans didn’t come to fruition as his daughter had him declared of unsound mind and his fortune was awarded to her.
11. What A ‘Stasche
HENRY BUDD, 1842
Born into a wealthy family, Henry Budd left his £200,000 fortune to his two sons on the proviso that “neither sullied his lip with a moustache”. Of course, once they received their inheritance, there was no-one actively monitoring the stubble on their upper lip…
12. I Want To Be Used Up When I Die
GEORGE BERNARD SHAW, 1950
Famous playwright and wordsmith George Bernard Shaw left over £500,000 to develop the Shavian alphabet. This was during the 1950’s spelling reform – a movement that was trying to simplify the English language – after Shaw’s death a contest was held to develop a new alphabet and architect Ronald Kingsley Read won, but Shaw’s Will was contested and the project never took off.
13. Bang A Gong
S SANBORN, 1871
When 19th-century hat maker S Sanborn died he left specific instructions that two drums were to be made out of his skin. The human skin drums were given to his friend on the condition that every June 17, in commemoration of the famous Revolutionary War Battle they would beat out “Yankee Doodle” on Bunker Hill at dawn. The rest of his body was “to be composted for a fertilizer to contribute to the growth of an American elm, to be planted in some rural thoroughfare.” Creepy, much?
14. Devonshire Tea?
When self-made millionaire financier Keith Owen, 69, was diagnosed with cancer and given just a few weeks to live, he decided to donate his entire £2.3m fortune to his favourite holiday spot, Sidmouth in Devon.
The money was given to the local council association, with the stipulation that some of it was to be spent on one million flowering bulbs to keep the coastal town awash with colour. His Will specifies that the capital should not be touched, but that the interest – about £125,000 a year – be spent on maintaining the town and two nearby villages. The town has not yet planted the million bulbs.
15. No Regrets?
Heinrich Heine 1856
For some embittered spouses a last Will and Testament is actually a last chance to insult their life partner one more time. So it was for German poet Heinrich “Henry” Heine who left his estate to his wife, Matilda, in 1856 on the condition that she remarry, so that “there will be at least one man to regret my death”.
16. Bitter Tears
WELLINGTON BURT 1919
Michigan millionaire Wellington Burt used his Will to create a trust which kept his enormous wealth out of reach of his family for almost a full century. When he died in 1919, it was revealed that his Will specified that his vast fortune would not be passed on until 21 years after the death of his last surviving grandchild. She died in 1989 and the 21-year countdown ended on November 2010. About 12 people discovered they were beneficiaries of the strange Will, described as a “legacy of bitterness”, and they shared a fortune estimated to be worth $110m.
17. A Gay Old Time
FRANK MANDELBAUM 2007
Frank Mandelbaum created in his Will a $180,000 trust fund for his grandchildren. An additional clause provided that his son’s children would only inherit a share if the son agreed to marry the mother of those children within six months of their birth. The issue was that the son is gay and is raising his son with his husband. This provision was not upheld as making a gift conditional on the action of another person is generally invalid.
Weird Wills – Are They Legal?
Apart from the common ‘bizarro’ theme running though this post, you should know that most of these Wills were ineffectual or contested and that almost all of the crazy stipulations and bequests were either totally overruled or substantially toned down. So, if you are thinking about writing something ‘weird’ into your Will, you’d better seek legal advice first. Your Will and its contents is a serious matter. Isn’t it worth ensuring that it delivers the outcome that you want?
Should you write something in it that, however inadvertently, invalidates it you might die intestate – leaving your loved ones with the inevitable emotional and financial fallout of this to deal with.
If you don’t have a Will or have one that needs updating we offer a cost effective and convenient estate planning service. Our specialist expert consultants can come to you and our rates are very competitive. To learn more about our services please call 08 8212 7233 or email email@example.com
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