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Elder Law and Estate Planning Blog - Lancaster, PA

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Weird Will Bequests

This article was sent out in our newsletter last week, but we liked it so much we decided to share it here as well!  Did you read it in our newsletter?  Look for a few more additions in this version.

Most wills generally have the same provisions.  However every now and then there comes a will with a strange bequest.  Here are some of the weirdest will bequests known.

  • Gene Roddenberry, the creator of the Star Trek television series, requested that his ashes be blasted into space on a satellite and be distributed as it orbited the earth.  In 1997, six years after his death, Roddenberry’s ashes were able “to boldly go where no man has gone before.”
  • German Countess Carlotta Liebenstein left 139 million German marks (about $66.2 million) to her pet dog, Gunther III.  The dog and his offspring, Gunther IV, lived out the rest of their lives in luxury, with a personal maid, chauffeur and customized pool.
  • New York hotel magnate Leona Helmsley left $12 million for the upkeep of her Maltese terrier, Trouble.  However, after the will was contested, the dog was left with only $2 million.  Still, that’s more than two of her four grandkids, who were left with nothing.
  • Charles Vance Miller, an eccentric Canadian lawyer and practical jokester, bequeathed a large sum of money for the lady in Toronto who could produce the most children in the 10 years following his death.  The Great Stork Derby, as the resulting contest was called, had 4 winners who all received 125,000 Canadian dollars, or about $121,975 in the United States.  Additionally, Miller gave joint lifetime tenancy to three men known to despise each other in his Jamaican holiday home.
  • Samuel Bratt grasped an opportunity to get even with his wife after his death in 1960.  She never allowed him to smoke, but in his will, he left her 330,000 pounds ($509,025) provided that she smoke 5 cigars a day.
  • Juan Potomachi left more than $50,000 to the Teatro Dramatico Theatre in Buenos Aires on the condition that his skull be preserved and used in Hamlet.
  • Harold West was worried about becoming a vampire after his death, so much so that he left instructions in his will for his doctor to “drive a steel stake through my heart to make sure that I am properly dead.”
  • James Bowman, from Vermont, died in 1891, after his wife and two daughters passed away.  As a firm believer in reincarnation, Bowman instructed that his 21-room mansion be maintained through a specific amount of money designated for that purpose.  In addition, he specified that each night dinner must be prepared in case the family came back.  The money ran out in 1950, before the return of the family.
  • A Danish widow left the equivalent of $61,700 to six chimpanzees - Jimmy, Trunte, Fifi, Trine, Grinni and Gigi - at the Copenhagen Zoo.
  • Tom Goodson asked his relatives to give everyone who attended his funeral an envelope containing a one pound note with the words, “Have a smoke, crack a joke.  Thanks for coming,” written on it.
  • Harry Houdini left 10 random words to his wife in his will.  He stated that she should hold a seance every Halloween after his death, and that he would communicate with her using those ten words.  She held the seances every year for 10 years, but eventually stopped because Houdini never made his presence known.
  • Janis Joplin, who updated her will just two days before her death, set aside several thousand dollars for a posthumous party for 200 of her closest friends.  This party was held at her favorite bar in San Anselmo, California, and Janis noted that she wanted her friends to "get blasted after I'm gone."
  • The philosophical father of utilitarianism, Jeremy Bentham, wanted his remains to be clothed in a black suit and sitting in his favorite chair inside a wooden and glass cabinet.  And that is exactly what happened; his body is preserved in the cabinet, called the Auto-icon, at University College London, with a wax head as the real one was left looking macabre after mummification.  His body sits on display at the end of the South Cloisters in the college's main building.  It has also attended meetings of the College Council, where it was listed as "present but not voting."

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