Strange bequests people make in their Wills
3 Dec 2019
State Trustees’ Will writers have been trusted by Victorians for decades to write and record their last wishes. There are very few restrictions on what you can put in your Will. Although the majority of people leave their belongings to family members, friends or charities, people sometimes do make strange bequests in their last Will and testament. Here’s some examples from Australia and abroad.
A literary legacy
Miles Franklin was an Australian novelist and writer committed to the growth and development of Australian literature. Following the publication of her most regarded work, My Brilliant Career, she spent some time working in Sydney and Melbourne whilst also contributing pieces to newspapers. In her Will she made a provision for her estate to establish an annual literary award, the Miles Franklin Award.
The daily rose
When actor and comedian Jack Benny died in 1974, his will stipulated that a single red rose be delivered to his wife, Mary Livingstone Benny, from the date of his death until the date that she died. At the time of writing his Will, Benny said he wanted his wife to know of his “undying love and commitment.” A florist delivered a red rose to her every day as his Will instructed until her death in 1983.
After death celebrations
Some of the most interesting Wills include bequests that provide funds for friends and family to celebrate after the testator’s death. Roger Brown, an Englishman who lost his battle with prostate cancer at 67, left part of his fortune to seven of his friends with the stipulation they use it for an alcohol-filled weekend in a European city. Singer Janis Joplin left a US$2,500 US fund in her Will for a wake party after her death.
In some last Will and testaments, the disposition of the person’s body is part of their bequest. Mark Gruenwald, Executive Editor of Captain America and Iron Man for Marvel Comics, requested that he be cremated and his ashes mixed with ink for the printing of comic books. Fred Bauer, the inventor of the Pringles can, wanted to be buried in a Pringles can. Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek, requested that his ashes be launched into space while Napoleon Bonaparte’s Will directed that his head be shaved and his hair distributed among his friends.
When Robert Louis Stevenson died in 1894, his Will included an odd bequest. At the time that Mr Stevenson prepared his Will, he said that his friend Annie H. He often complained that she did not really get to celebrate her birthday as she was born on Christmas Day. In his Will he left her his own birthday, November 13.
There have been many Wills with unique requests regarding their beloved pets. Jonathan Jackson, an Ohio animal lover who died in 1880, left a significant amount of money for the creation of a home for cats. The home was to have bedrooms, a gym, a dining hall and an auditorium where live music would be played. There would also be a roof designed specifically for climbing. When she died in 2004, Leona Helmsley left more than US$12 million to her Maltese, Trouble. Her grandchildren were required to visit their father’s grave annually to inherit their share of the estate.
Some people use their Wills to get back at family and friends who have wronged them. German poet Heinrich Heine left his estate to his wife with a stipulation that she remarry. Although this request may not seem unusual, the Will indicated the condition was so “there will be at least one man to regret my death.” Wellington Burt, a Michigan millionaire, included in his Will a stipulation that his fortune not be passed on until 21 years after the death of his last surviving grandchild. The last child died in 1989 and the fortune was dispersed in 2010. About a dozen people were beneficiaries and shared an estimated US$110 million. Frank Mandlebaum left a trust fund to his grandchildren worth US$180,000 US, but stipulated that his son Robert’s children would only inherit his share in the estate if Robert married their mother within six months of Mr Mandlebaum’s death. However, Robert is gay, married to a man and raising his son Cooper with his husband.
Portuguese aristocrat, Luis Carlos de Noronha Cabral da Camara left his considerable fortune to 70 strangers he randomly chose out of a phone directory in Lisbon. When his heirs were notified, many thought it was a joke as they had never met the man.
In 1930, TM Zink, an attorney, left his estate to the town of Le Mars, Iowa to build the Zink Womanless Library. Entrances to the library were to be clearly marked ‘No Women Admitted’ and no woman was to contribute to the library design, construction, operation or maintenance. The same Will ordered his widow to pay US$40 per month into the trust to live in the Zink home. His daughter, who was given US$5, contested the Will successfully.
Preparation for the afterlife
John Porter Bowman, a tanner from New York, left a sizable estate in his Will. Bowman’s first daughter, Addie, died at four months and his second daughter, Ella, died at 19. His wife, Jennie, died less than a year after Ella. After Jennie’s death, he returned to Vermont and built an elaborate mausoleum for his family with busts of Ella and Jennie as well as a statue of Addie. There is a statue of Bowman himself on the steps with a key in his hand as if he is going to join them. He also built a 21-room mansion overlooking the mausoleum. Upon his death in 1891, his Will bequeathed $50,000 US into a trust fund for upkeep of the mansion. Trustees were to keep the clocks wound, lights on and place a hot meal on the table every night so that when his family was reincarnated, the home would be ready for them.
Your Will is often your last message to your loved ones. No matter how straightforward your circumstances are, having a Will helps ensure everyone understands what you’d like done with your estate.
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