11 Unusual Wills, Burial Requests, And Final Wishes
These Wills are shocking, spiteful, and even silly.
Wills might be standard legal documents, but they don’t have to be boring. As long as you get it on paper, and it’s not illegal, you can pretty much do anything you want. Like these folks.
Hotel mogul Leona Helmsley is probably the most famous person to leave multi-millions to her dog. When she died in 2007, she left $12 million to her Maltese pup Trouble. That’s $12 million more than two of her grandchildren received. Those kids contested the Will in court, leading a judge to cut Trouble’s inheritance down to $2 million and hand the grandchildren over $6 million. But Trouble lived large for another four years, and even netted a New York Times obituary when she passed in 2011. [Note: The pup in the photo isn’t Trouble. She’d never wear such a tacky tutu.]
Even illusionist Harry Houdini’s final wishes had a little bit of otherworldly magic to it. He requested his wife Bess conduct a seance each year on the anniversary of his death so he could communicate from the other side. (The code he left for Bess to read was: “Rosabelle, answer, tell, pray, answer, look, tell, answer, answer, tell.”) Unfortunately, her attempts failed and she gave up after 10 years of trying. But others took up the tradition, which still goes on today. Considering Houdini died on Halloween, it’s a bit of a no-brainer.
It's worth noting that unusual requests like this aren't necessarily enforcable by law — Houdini's widow wouldn't lose the house if she didn't perform the seanace — but what better way to really drive a suggestion home than including it in a legal document? If you're extremely serious about your friends or family doing something out of the ordinary, like a throwing a big birthday party in your honor each year, then you'll have to specifically stipulate what needs to happen and the amount of money from your estate that should be used (you could even keep the money in a Trust that can only be used for the party). Your executor or trustees would then be required to make sure those funds are used for your annual birthday party. However, if the funds run dry then it's up to your friends and family to decide whether or not the party will go on.
William Shakespeare famously spurned his wife by leaving her his “second best” bed in his Will, but German author Heinrich Heine was more brutal. Upon his death in 1856, he bequeathed his entire estate to his wife Matilda — provided she remarried. Why that condition? As Heine saw it, then “there will be at least one man to regret my death.”
Luis Carlos de Noronha Cabral da Camara
On top of having a very long name, Luis Carlos de Noronha Cabral da Camara was a wealthy Portuguese aristocrat. But he didn’t have any children or many friends, so when he drafted his Will he randomly picked 70 names from a Lisbon phone book. Those lucky strangers received portions of his fortune, estimated to be several thousand Euros each.
English philosopher Jeremy Bentham technically died in 1832, but he’s still hanging out in the halls of University College London. In his Will, Bentham instructed his friend, who was also a doctor, to preserve his head and skeleton, dress his remains in a suit, seat him in a chair with his cane, and display him in a cabinet or case on the university campus with a placard reading “Auto-Icon.” Bentham has been there since 1850 and even has a virtual 360-degree rotatable version for those who can’t make the trip in person. UCL did replace his real head with a wax one, partially due to decay and partially due to students stealing it all the time.
Oil heiress Sandra West died suddenly at the age of 37 and asked to be buried in a white nightgown in the front seat of her 1964 powder blue Ferrari 250GT “with the seat slanted comfortably.” The site still attracts tourists in San Antonio to this day, but you won’t see that blue sportscar — it was placed in a box and then covered in cement to discourage looters. [Photo Source: John_Silver / Shutterstock.com]
Solomon Sanborn was a Boston hatmaker who left his body to science in 1871. A common request, but his Will didn’t stop there. Sanborn further stipulated that his skin should be made into two drums, which his friend would beat to the tune of “Yankee Doodle” on Bunker Hill each year on June 17th. But wait, there’s more. Sanborn wanted each drum inscribed: one with Alexander Pope’s “Universal Prayer” and the other with The Declaration of Independence. Crazy patriotic or just plain crazy?
And you thought Leona Helmsley was spiteful. When Iowa lawyer T.M. Zink died in 1930, he left $5 to his daughter, nothing to his wife, and set aside the rest of the money for a so-called “womanless” library. The place would exclusively carry books written by men and no ladies would be allowed on the premises. Thankfully, this sexist spectacle never saw the light of day, because Zink’s family successfully challenged the Will in court.
During his lifetime, Canadian millionaire Charles Millar was known as a bit of a prankster. Still, no one was quite prepared for his strange Last Will and Testament. Millar promised his entire fortune to whichever woman produced the most babies in the 10 years following his death. When the dust settled, it was split between four women who each had nine children.
Londoner Henry Budd must’ve been a beard-or-bust guy (or foresaw a future of hipsters growing ironic facial hair), because his Will expressly forbad his two sons from growing mustaches. If either William or Edward sprouted a handlebar, his share of the inheritance would be voided and revert to whichever son had remained clean-shaven.
John Bowman was once the wealthiest man in Cuttingsville, Vermont, but his luck in business did not extend to luck in family life. In the span of a year, Bowman lost both his wife Jennie and his daughter Ella. (His first daughter, Addie, died as an infant.) He firmly believed he and his family would live together again through reincarnation so he set aside $50,000 in his 1891 Will for the upkeep of his mansion and mausoleum. Rumor has it the servants were also supposed to set the table for dinner each night, in case the Bowmans returned in time for supper. This practice continued until the trust fund ran out in 1953.
- All You Need To Know About Advance DirectivesWhen you can’t make health decisions for yourself, this is the north star...Read more
- Trusts Cheat SheetTrust us when we say this is as basic as we can make Trusts.Read more
- How To Create A Do Not Resuscitate Order (DNR)A DNR is a medical order that states you don't want cardiopulmonary...Read more
- How Organ Donation WorksIf the person who died was a registered organ donor, measures will be taken...Read more