To ensure that your wishes are carried out after you’ve gone, it’s essential to make a Will, preferably with the help of a Wills solicitor. Many people see making a Will as a chance to ensure their loved ones are well provided for, but some people choose to do this in more unusual ways than others. Here is a look at some of the strangest bequests made in Wills.
My Second-Best Bed
When William Shakespeare died in 1616, he left the majority of his money and properties to his daughters. Shakespeare left almost nothing to his wife, Anne, save his “second best bed” and some other furniture. Initially, the Will did not mention his wife at all. The bequest of the “second best bed” was only added in less than a month before he died. It may have been the case that the aforementioned bed was the marital bed and therefore was of special significance to Anne. It was common in the 17th Centenary for people to bequeath their beds to someone, usually a spouse or close relative.
Singer Janis Joplin, noted for her partying almost as much as her music, died in 1970. She left $2,500 to “cause a gathering of my friends and acquaintances at a suitable location as a final gesture of appreciation and farewell to such friends and acquaintances”. Interestingly, Joplin included a “no-contest” clause in her Will in respect of the legacies she had left to her family.
A Welshman, Roger Brown, who died in 2015, left a very similar bequest to his seven closest friends so that they could enjoy a boozy weekend in Europe. Both Janis’ and Roger’s friends carried out the requests of their benefactors.
In 1891, some three years before his death, famous novelist Robert Louis Stevenson learned that 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. Stevenson left his birthday – 13th November – to little Annie Ide to adopt as her own provided she take care of it with "moderation and humanity... the said birthday not being so young as it once was."
Drums made from my Skin
Mr Sanborn was a little-known American hat maker. When he died in 1871, his Will stated that two drums were to be made from his skin. The gruesome drums were to be given to his friend who would travel to Bunker Hill and play “Yankee Doodle Dandy” on the 17th of June each year to mark the anniversary of the Revolutionary War Battle. The rest of his remains would be "composted for a fertilizer to contribute to the growth of an American elm, to be planted in some rural thoroughfare". He may have been virtually unknown while alive, but his grisly request ensured his name would be remembered for many years to come.
Talk to me after I’m Gone
Harry Houdini, the well-known illusionist and escapologist, requested that his wife, Bess, held a séance each year on the anniversary of his death so they could communicate with each other. She did this for ten years, but she was never able to communicate with him and subsequently gave up. Others took up the ritual that continues to this day, some 92 years after his death. These are known as the Houdini Séances and are held in various locations by Houdini enthusiasts. No-one has been able to communicate with him since he last spoke as a living person. Eerily, Houdini died on Hallowe’en.
The Hair from my Head
One of Napoleon Bonaparte’s last wishes was that his head should be shaved. Bracelets were to be made from the hair and fastened “with a little gold clasp”. The bracelets were to be sent to his mother, and to “each of my brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, the Cardinal; and one of larger size for my son.”
Portuguese aristocrat Luis Carlos de Noronha Cabral da Camara, who died in 2001, had very few friends and no children. He had an unusual way of choosing who would inherit his wealth. Thirteen years before his death, and in front of two witnesses at a registry office, he selected, at random, 70 strangers from the Lisbon telephone directory. None of the beneficiaries were aware of this until they were contacted after his death and were told of their inheritance. One beneficiary is reported to have said, "I thought it was some kind of cruel joke. I’d never heard of the man”.
A Man to Regret my Death
German author and poet Heinrich Heine left his entire estate to his wife, Eugenie (whom he called Mathilde) when he died in 1856. The only caveat was that she remarried. Heine told friends at the time of writing his Will the condition was there so that “there will be at least one man to regret my death.”
Put Me On Display
Jeremy Bentham, an English philosopher, died in 1832 but was never buried; instead he is on display in University College London. The Will stated that his friend was to preserve Bentham’s head and skeleton, dress the remains in a suit, seat him in a chair with his cane, and display him in a glass cabinet along with a card reading “Auto-Icon”. Bentham has been in UCL since 1850, and the University even made a virtual 360-degree version for those who are unable to visit Bentham in person. His head was replaced with a wax one due to decay. For a long time, his actual head sat between his feet in the display, but it has since been locked away due to students frequently taking it away.
No Moustaches for my Sons
Henry Budd died in 1862 and left his substantial fortune to his two sons on the explicit condition that neither “sullied his lip with a moustache”. His sons remained clean-shaven and inherited the princely fortune of £200,000 between them.
A Rotten Old Pig
Albert Orton, a bootmaker from Coventry, died aged 70 in 1888. He left just a single farthing to his wife because he was offended at his wife calling him a 'rotten old pig' because he frequently broke wind.
Ashes to Ink
Mark Gruenwald died in 1996; he was a comic book writer and editor for Marvel Comics, best known for his work with the Captain America character. He requested that his ashes be mixed into the ink used to print the first trade paperback anthology of Squadron Supreme, another one of his landmark creations.
The Great Stork Derby
Charles Miller, a Canadian lawyer and businessman, was known as a practical joker while he was alive. He died in 1926, leaving a Will with several unusual bequests, including a joint lifetime tenancy to Miller’s Jamaican holiday home to three men who hated each other. Seven Protestant ministers and temperance advocates were left $700,000 worth of stock in a Catholic-owned brewery, providing they contributed to the company’s management and took dividends, and $25,000 of Ontario Jockey Club stock was left to three fervent anti-horse-racing campaigners. His most famous bequest, however, was that the balance of his very sizeable estate be converted into cash after ten years and be given to the Toronto woman who produced the most children during that time. Four women with nine children each shared the legacy, and two others were awarded a small amount for a “valiant effort”. This became known as The Stork Derby and immortalised in a film of the same name.
If you are considering a rather unusual bequest or gift in your Will, it is advisable to speak with an Oratto member Wills solicitor first. You can call us on 0345 388 3765 or contact us by using our online enquiry form.