Tales from the Trenches of Estate Practitioners: Truly Obnoxious Will Provisions of the Rich and Famous

As an Estate Practitioner, I’ve had my fair share of clients with unusual requests in their Wills. Without going into detail, and therefore potentially violating attorney-client privilege, I can say that some of them have been absolutely hilarious, others have been down right hurtful, and some have been, well just plain weird. In any event, it usually comes down to the Testator (the person who makes the Will) wanting some sort of control from the grave. Whether it is a specific instruction regarding his or her burial, or putting restrictions on a relative inheriting from his or her estate, it usually comes down to that person wanting, in a sense, to live beyond their death and have an impact in some manner.

I have compiled, for your reading pleasure, some of the oddest and obnoxious Will provisions of the rich and famous, and hopefully after reading this, you will feel so much better about yourself and realize you are more normal than you may have thought.

Napoleon Bonaparte, the self-proclaimed Emperor of France, requested in his Will that upon his death, his head be shaved and his hair divided among his friends.

Leona Helmsley, notorious businesswoman and real estate entrepreneur, left $12 million to her Maltese, Trouble.

Ben Franklin, Founding Father, Statesman, and Inventor, left 408 diamonds to his daughter on the condition she never turn them into jewelry and “thereby introduce…the expensive, vain, and useless fashion of wearing jewels in this country.”  (Sorry, Ben. It didn’t work.)

Dusty Springfield, British singer, demanded in her Will that her cat, Nicholas, be fed imported baby food, live in an indoor tree house, be sung to sleep at night with Dusty’s old records, have his bed lined with Dusty’s pillowcase and night gown, and get married to a friend’s female cat. It is reported that her wishes were followed.

Fashion designer, Alexander McQueen, left $75,000.00 to his dogs.In comparison to Dusty, that seems kind of normal.

Harry Houdini, magician and stunt performer, asked his wife, Bess, to hold a séance every year to try and contact his spirit. The two even had a secret code so she knew it was him contacting her from beyond the grave.

Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, hoped to avoid turning his children into “trust fund kids” and left everything to his girlfriend. He also requested that his son, Cooper, be raised in three cities:New York, Chicago, and San Francisco.

British author Charles Dickens’ Will provided that “those attending my funeral wear no scarf, cloak, black bow, long hat band, or other such revolting absurdity.”

William Shakespeare, probably the most notable author ever, left his wife his “second-best bed.” I wonder who got the first-best?

William Randolph Hearst, magazine mogul, provided in his Will that if anyone could prove they were his child, that person would receive $1.00.

Author George Bernard Shaw, left money in his Will to fund a new alphabet.The alphabet was to have at least 40 letters, be phonetic, and distinctly different than the Latin alphabet.

Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek, requested a space burial. Six years after his death, his wish was granted and his wife’s ashes joined him in space after her death in 2009.

Jeremy Bentham, British Philosopher and father of Utilitarianism, requested his body be preserved, stuffed with hay and displayed in the University College of London. His executor and best friend, Dr. Thomas Smith, actually dissected and stuffed Bentham’s body himself.

I suppose the commercial is true, that “once you pop you can’t stop,” because Fred Baur, the inventor of the Pringles® can was so proud of his creation, he asked to be buried in one. His family complied with his request, too.

John B. Kelly, Sr., Philadelphia businessman and father of Grace Kelly, in his Will, asked Grace to “not bankrupt the principality of Monaco with the bills about her clothing.” 

T.M. Zink, an attorney from Iowa hated women so much that he set up a trust fund to create a completely woman-less library. His Will left $50,000.00 for the creation of a library with no books, art, or decoration by women and no female employees. 

Last, but certainly not least, Ed Headrick, the inventor of the Frisbee®, requested his ashes be molded into limited edition Frisbees. If you are interested, they are still available for purchase on the Disc Golf Association website for $65.00, and it even qualifies for free shipping! 

While this compilation of useless information may have been entertaining, the lesson to be learned is that the only way any of these requests were honored was to have a Will. Without it, Dusty’s cat may have been given away to a neighbor, Leona’s dog may have been forced to live in poverty, and there would be no new 40 character alphabet. Kidding aside, I cannot emphasize how important it is that if you have a specific plan for all of your earthly possessions, you need to have a Will; and if you have one, it’s important to review its contents periodically to ensure that it reflects your wishes.

Jessica R. Grater, Esquire, is an attorney with the law firm of Wolf, Baldwin & Associates, P.C., with offices in Pottstown, West Chester, and Reading. Ms. Grater concentrates her practice in Wills, Estates, Probate, Orphans’ Court, and Social Security Disability, and litigation related to such matters.  She may be reached at 610.323.7436 or by e-mail to jgrater@wolfbaldwin.com.

Pringles is a registered trademark of Pringles, LLC

Frisbee is a registered trademark of the Wham-O Toy Company

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