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Weird Wills – some of the world’s strangest last requests

James Watkins - Law on the Web

  1. 26 October 2015
  2. Wills and Probate
  3. 0 comments
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For many of us, a Will is a straightforward thing – you want your immediate family to be provided for, as well as maybe a close friend or two or a charitable cause you care about.

For some people, that just wasn’t enough. Here are some testators whose final requests meant they would live long in the memories of those who knew them, as well as those who didn’t.

Strange bequeathments

Back in 1928, an anonymous donor left £500,000 to be used to clear the UK’s national debt. It could only be used if it would clear the entire debt.

The donation, known as the National Fund, has been held in a trust ever since, and is now worth £350m – unfortunately, as it is considerably shy of the £1.5 trillion needed to clear the national debt, the fund cannot be used. Efforts by fund manager Barclays to give the fund away have been unsuccessful so far.

History is littered with stories of people who cut relatives out of their Will due to spite or a falling out – we wrote about one such case recently.

However, US lumber tycoon Wellington Burt was a particularly notable example. Before he died in 1919, he ordered that most of his fortune be put into a trust fund, which would only pay out 21 years after his last surviving grandchild passed away.

His immediate heirs, who had expected to receive his fortune, saw very little of it. When his so-called “golden egg” hatched in 2010, a fortune of around $110m (£67.5m) emerged. This fortune was shared amongst 12 beneficiaries, none of whom ever knew the man.

While it was never clear exactly why he left his money in such an unusual way, most seem to agree that Mr Burt was a rather sour and eccentric man.

If you have no family members to leave your estate to, you could always leave it to a complete stranger. This is what Portuguese aristocrat Luis Carlos de Noronha Cabral de Camara decided to do. He had no one to leave his estate to, but he was determined to make sure that it didn’t go to the state.

Instead, he picked 70 names at random out of a phone book. When he passed away in 2007, his oblivious heirs were invited to claim their share of his large estate (an invitation which, understandably, some assumed was a scam).

Specific requests

Wills aren’t just for specifying who benefits from your estate – they can be used to stipulate how that money should be used, or to make any other requests.

One man, Roger Brown, left £3,500 to seven of his closest friends, on the condition that they use it to go on holiday together. They satisfied this condition by going on a coach trip around Berlin and drinking a lot.

American entertainer Jack Benny, who died in 1974, had a slightly more romantic notion – he made a provision in his Will for his wife to have a rose sent to her every day for the rest of her life after he passed away. She continued to receive roses until she died eight years later.

Another noted entertainer, Harry Houdini, had a slightly spookier request. He asked that his wife, Bess, hold a séance every year after his death. They even came up with a code so that if he did manage to return to the world of the living, he could prove to her it was him.

However, she gave up after ten years, having reached the conclusion that he was unlikely to come back.

Séances to bring the man back continue to this day, but Houdini, who had actually been a sceptic and critic of spirit mediums before his death, has yet to return.

Unusual final resting places

Some of the more unusual requests concern what is to be done with the deceased individual’s body when they pass. We wrote recently about how restrictions on where you can be buried are more relaxed than you might think – however, some have found other particularly novel (or macabre) ways to make use of their remains.

Napoleon stated in his Will that he wanted his hair to be preserved and made into bracelets for various close family members. His son, the luckiest of all, was bequeathed a larger bracelet.

In a more modern example, longtime Marvel Comics writer and editor Mark Gruenwald requested that his ashes used in a comic. When he passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack, his ashes were mixed into the ink used to print the compilation of Squadron Supreme, a series of comics he had written back in the 80s. The ashes were only in the printing of the first edition, but you can still find them on eBay.

Making your own Will

There’s nothing to stop you from putting odd things like these into your own Will – who knows, it might garner you some posthumous fame.

However, if you are including an unusual stipulation in your Will (or even if you aren’t), it’s more important than ever that you get legal advice. Any strange or unexpected things in your Will could be challenged, and if they don’t stand up to legal scrutiny, the Will could be deemed invalid.

Our Making a Will section could put you on track to write a valid Will – no matter how weird your intentions.

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