Comedian Jack Benny
Legendary US comedian Jack Benny left an unusual but touching instruction in his will when he died in 1974. “Every day since Jack has gone the florist has delivered one long-stemmed red rose to my home,” his widow Mary Livingstone wrote in a magazine, shortly after his death. “I learned Jack actually had included a provision for the flowers in his will. One red rose to be delivered to me every day for the rest of my life.”
A Donation to Clear the National Debt
A public-spirited donor made a half-million pound bequest to Britain back in 1928, which is now worth more than £350m. Unfortunately, the anonymous donor was very specific about how the money should be spent: it should only be passed on once it is enough to clear the entire national debt. Sadly, the total national debt currently stands at £1.5tn so as a result, the country can’t touch the money. Lina Lopes of Douglas Elliman, who sells homes with an average price of $350,000 in Suffolk County on Long Island, told Business Insider.
The Rich Dog
In 2004, billionaire hotelier Leona Helmsley left instructions for her $4bn (£2.5bn) fortune to be spent caring for dogs, having apparently re-thought an earlier draft that left it to the poor. Her nine-year-old Maltese, Trouble, received $12m (£8m) in the will, with her grandchildren either cut out or ordered to visit their father’s grave annually in order to inherit their share. Trouble’s inheritance was later cut to just $2m (£1.2m) by a judge, although the dog still needed to go into hiding amid death and kidnap threats.
I Bequeath You a New Husband
For some embittered spouses a last will and testament is actually a last chance to insult their life partner one more time. So it was for German poet Heinrich “Henry” Heine who left his estate to his wife, Matilda, in 1856 on the condition that she remarry, so that “there will be at least one man to regret my death”.
A Bitter Old Man?
Michigan millionaire Wellington Burt used his will to put his enormous wealth out of reach of his family for almost a full century. Burt, who died in 1919 at age 87 in Saginaw, Mich., made his wealth in the lumber and iron industries. For reasons not described in his will, he stipulated that the majority of his fortune would be distributed 21 years after his last surviving grandchild’s death. That granddaughter died in 1989. Now 12 descendants will split the fortune, estimated at $100 million to $110 million. “I don’t think we’ll ever know exactly what it was that ticked him off that said, hey, after my last grandchild dies, 21 years after that, then you can get your money,” Thomas Mudd, local historic preservationist, told ABC affiliate WJRT in Michigan. Danielle Mayoras, attorney and co-author of the book, Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights!, said she has never heard of a will or trust with a similar distribution. People have been known to leave creative conditions in their will to motivate their heirs to have a work ethic or encourage them to attend college. But this is something else. “I think this is beyond creativity,” Mayoras said. “It’s more of an insult.” She said she suspects the reason Burt chose 21 as the year stipulation was because the common law’s Rule of Perpetuities. That rule forbids leaving money to anyone 21 years after the death of the last identifiable individual living at the time the will or trust was created. Christina Alexander Cameron, the great-great-great-granddaughter of Burt, is one of the 12 heirs who agreed among themselves how to split the funds. She and her sister, Cory, will each inherit about $2.6 to $2.9 million.
“I’d rather not rely on it,” Christina Cameron told The Saginaw News. “I’ll probably just save it. I don’t know; it’s just not as big of a deal to me as it was to most of my family.” Press accounts imply that Wellington Burt experienced familial conflicts, which led to the unusual will. Burt had left his children $1,000 to $5,000 annually, relatively small amounts, except for a “favorite son” who he gave $30,000 annually, according to The Saginaw News.
Burt, however, cancelled a $5,000 annuity to one of his daughters over a disagreement about her divorce, the newspaper reported. Through a trust, he left his secretary $4,000 annually and a cook, housekeeper, coachman and chauffeur each received $1,000 annually. Since his death, Burt’s relatives tried to break the trust in court, claiming Burt was not of sound mind when he created his last testament, and engaged in other legal disputes. But now a court order mandates that the trust must be distributed by May 21.
“I think he was kind of a wise old man, kind of foxy. And really, I think knew what he was doing in the long run,” Probate Judge Patrick McGraw told ABC’s WJRT.
It’s the stuff of daydreams and film scripts. When Portuguese aristocrat Luis Carlos de Noronha Cabral da Camara wrote up his will, he left his considerable fortune to 70 strangers randomly chosen out of a Lisbon phone directory. “I thought it was some kind of cruel joke,” a 70-year-old heiress told Portugal’s Sol newspaper. “I’d never heard of the man.
While we don’t suggest you use your Last Will and Testament as a way of being funny, or getting revenge on your family or other loved ones, you can use your Will to help you family and loved ones in many ways. We are confident that we could help guide you in this process. Contact us today. We can help!