Weird Wills – bizarre, strange and (sometimes) downright rude last requests
Or…. Weird Wills of the rich(ish) and famous(ish)….
Writing your Will is a serious business, right? It details how you wish your estate to be distributed. Who benefits and, by how much. BUT why limit your Will to the mundane? It can be a platform for so much more. A few final beautiful words for a loved one. An expression of love for your… dog or, in the case of Napoleon to ensure your loved ones receive their fair share of your hair, whether they wanted it or not. Weird Wills, we love them!
Here are 10 of the strangest bequests and most bizarre stipulations found in our favourite weird Wills – it’s long this week but it’s well worth sticking it out to the end…!
1 – To my wife – my second-best bed
William Shakespeare, 1616
In his 1616 Will The Bard left his daughters £150 each – £380,000 in today’s money. His wife, Anne Hathaway, got his second-best bed. Now, 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, who got the best bed?
2 – $12 million to a… dog
Leona Helmsley, 2004
Famously horrible Leona Helmsley, the original Queen of Mean, convicted tax dodger and utterer of the infamous line “We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.” The lovely Leona left instructions for much of her $4.5bn fortune to be spent caring for dogs. Which, included $12 million – yes, TWELVE MILLION DOLLARS to her dog Trouble. This was later knocked down in court to JUST $2m. STILL, that is a lot of Bonio for one tiny dog to get through.
BONUS Dog Lady – Eleanor Ritchey 1968
While she didn’t have anywhere near as much money as Helmsley, Ritchey did have more dogs. A LOT of dogs. When she died in 1968 Ritchey left her entire $4.5 million fortune to her 150 dogs. ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY DOGS. Funnily enough, the Will was contested. Delaying the dogs their windfall. Although when her estate was settled in 1973 the value had jumped to $14 million and by this time there were only 73 dogs still alive 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.
3 – Once you pop
Frederick Baur, 2008
Not someone you may have heard of but I can pretty much guarantee you’ve been elbow deep in his famous invention. For, Mr. Baur is the man who gave us the PRINGLE TUBE. Yep that dangerously addictive wheat/rice/corn/potato based snack (what are they made out of?). 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. Disappointingly not a giant, man-sized one – although that would be a great job for Paa Joe’s fantasy coffin business – he was cremated and his ashes interred in a regular sized one. And, in case you were wondering – his children decided that only ORIGINAL flavour would do.
4 – A hangover
Janis Joplin 1970 and Roger Brown 2015
Hard-drinking Janis Joplin reportedly left $2,500 so that her friends could get blasted one last time after she was gone. And, proving that unusual Wills are not limited to the rich and famous, Welshman Roger Brown, who sadly died aged just 67 in 2015 left £3,500 to seven friends on the proviso that they spent it on a boozy weekend in Europe. They, of course, obliged.
5 – The 13th November
Robert Louis Stevenson, 1894
In 1891 RLS learned that Annie Ide, the 12-year-old daughter of Henry Clay Ide, the US Commissioner to Samoa, where he was living at the time – was unhappy that her birthday fell on Christmas Day so, he left 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.
6 – A rose for my rose
Jack Benny, 1974
The love comedian Jack Benny had for his wife of 47 years, Mary Livingstone did not die with him. So committed was he to his beloved (take note Shakespeare) that in his Will he left provision for a local florist to deliver one long-stemmed rose to Mary every day until she died. Being that she lasted another decade that’s a whole lot of roses. Romantic gesture or creepy “I’m watching you” message from beyond the grave…. jury’s out here (I’m leaning toward the latter).
7 – 70 strangers in the phone book
Luis Carlos de Noronha Cabral de Camara
Luis Carlos de Noronha Cabral de Camara was a wealthy but not happy man. Seemingly dead set (pun intended) on drinking himself into an early grave, Luis Carlos decided it was time to write a Will. Never married and with no heirs, he simply chose 70 names out of the local directory and left his considerable estate – money, property, vehicles, the whole shebang to these strangers. 70 strangers who now stood to inherit a good few thousand Euro’s each. When he died his lawyers called the 70 lucky beneficiaries and told them of their random windfall. His calls were met with some suspicion….
8 – Misogyny; the gift that keeps on giving
TM Zink, 1930
Iowa attorney and self-confessed woman hater TM Zink (unsurprisingly) left his wife nothing and his daughter just $5 the rest of his fortune was earmarked to open a very special, woman-less library. Yep, that’s right a library from which woman were strictly prohibited from entering. In fact, just to make sure there was no confusion it was to say ‘No woman permitted’ above every door. In case, you know, you wanted to frequent the library of a dead misogynist.
Thankfully, his plans didn’t come to fruition as his daughter had him declared of unsound mind and his fortune was awarded to her. Which, I hope, she promptly took and then went and danced on his grave.
9 – No cash for the ‘tasche
Henry Budd, 1842
Next up Henry Budd. Born into the wealthy south London Budd family Henry Budd, a property speculator, investor, and builder of the famous Budd mausoleum found outside St Matthews in Brixton Hill road. Honestly, it’s worth a look if you’re ever in the area. Henry’s Will left his £200,000 fortune to his two sons on the proviso that “neither sullied his lip with a moustache”.
10 – A new alphabet
George Bernard Shaw, 1950
The 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 – you can see his design here. You may notice that we aren’t writing in Read’s brave new alphabet. Shaw’s Will was contested and the project never took off.
And a little weird wills bonus story – it was so disgusting/disturbing/bizarre we couldn’t leave it out.
You could say we’ve saved the most macabre for last. Because we did.
11 – Make sweet, sweet music (literally) from me
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 – more ‘Homemade Homes’ with Buffalo Bill than Kirstie Allsop. The human skin drums were given to his friend (shudder) 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.”
After extensive research (5 minutes of hardcore googling) we can’t find out why either. Which means that the delightful Mr Sanborn is the absolute embodiment (pun intended) of this post dedicated to the world’s weird Wills.
Weird Wills – are they legal?
There is a running theme throughout this post. Most of these Wills were contested and the crazy stipulations and bequests were, if not totally overruled at least toned down. So, if you want to write something ‘off piste’ into your Will is best to seek legal advice. Your Will, its contents and ensuring that it delivers the outcome that you want it to is a serious matter. Should you write something in it that, however inadvertently, invalidates it you will have died 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 consultants come to you and our rates are some of the most competitive on the market. To learn more about our services please call 01322 664885 or email firstname.lastname@example.org