While writing a Will can be emotionally draining, there are ways to add some humour or just a nice touch to it, if you’d prefer to go out with a bang. We’ve rounded up 10 of the funniest and strangest Will requests of all time, so hold onto your pens, people! If inspiration is what you’re lacking, then start scrolling.
(A disclaimer before we get started: some of these Will requests are Wild with a capital W).
1. The petty request
If this isn’t THE pettiest act to grace the Elizabethan era* then we don’t know what is. William Shakespeare literally left his wife Anne Hathaway the “second-best bed” and then the vast majority of his estate to his daughter, Susanna. (For our younger readers, Anne Hathaway is not to be confused with the Hollywood actor).
*This is a gross overstatement.
2. The millionaire dog heirs
In 2004, billionaire hotelia Leona Helmsley left £8m to her nine-year-old Maltese, Trouble. We can only imagine the look on her lawyer’s face when they drew up the expensive piece of paperwork. But the best part of the whole affair? Well, her grandchildren were either cut out of the Will (brutal) or were ordered to visit their father’s grave annually just to inherit their share. Um, brilliant stuff.
These days, although you can’t leave money directly to pets, you can leave funds to care for them. And doing so isn’t that unusual – in fact, it’s rumoured that celebrities like Oprah and Drew Barrymore reportedly have established trusts for their pets, with millions put aside for the lucky furchildren. But it’s always big news when a dog inherits millions, even billions of dollars. That’s plenty of dog treats right there.
3. The golden egg and the legacy of bitterness
Eccentric Michigan millionaire and lumber tycoon Wellington Burt called his fortune his “golden egg”. In his Will, he requested that his vast fortune would not be passed on until 21 years (oddly specific) after the death of his last surviving grandchild. Burt died in 1919, and the last of the grandchildren, Marion Lansill, died in 1989. In November 2010 – an astounding 91 years later – 12 people discovered they were beneficiaries of his strange Will, one that was described by many as a “legacy of bitterness”. They shared a fortune estimated to be $110 million. None of the 12 knew Burt, but the eldest of the group was reportedly two years old when he died. Bizarre. Someone write this screenplay. Please.
4. The romantic gesture
US comedian Jack Benny left a touching last wish in his Will when he died in 1974. Shortly after his death, his widow Mary Livingstone wrote in a magazine, “Every day since Jack has gone the florist has delivered one long-stemmed red rose to my home… 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.” Be right back, crying at our desks...
5. Fortune favours seventy strangers
When Portuguese aristocrat Luis Carlos de Noronha Cabral da Camara (what a name) wrote up his Will, he left his massive fortune to 70 strangers – get this – randomly plucked out of a Lisbon phone book. As the illegitimate son of an aristocratic woman, he was rich but reportedly had few friends and no offspring. So, why the phonebook? Well in Portugal, if there’s no Will and you don’t have any next of kin then your belongings go to the state.
Anibal Castro, a former friend who witnessed the strange Will, said that “he was determined that nothing should go to the state, which he thought had been robbing him of money all his life… he probably wanted to create confusion by leaving his things to strangers.”
Can you imagine receiving that letter? It would be like winning the lotto without having even bought a ticket.
6. The spooky Halloween séance
Hungarian-American escape artist, magic man and stunt performer Harry Houdini had a clause in his Will which requested that his wife, Bess Houdini, conduct an annual séance. Bess memorised a secret “code” that her husband believed would prove as identification from the “other side.” For a full decade, she honoured the request on Halloween – the anniversary of her husband’s death. In 1943, nearing death, Bess recalled her string of séances. She wasn’t sorry she had stopped the ritual, saying, “10 years is long enough to wait for any man.” Iconic.
7. The proud Pringle can inventor
In 1966, Fredric Baur invented an innovative way for manufacturing company Procter & Gamble to stack chips, rather than tossing them in a chip bag. He was so proud of the achievement, he wanted to go to his grave with it. (Understandable). So, when Baur passed away in 2008 at the age of 89, his children buried his ashes in one of the iconic cans. Honestly, good on him, but we kind of don’t think we’ll be eating Pringles anytime soon after reading this.
8. Joplin’s posthumous hurrah
Janis Joplin must have had some incredible friends. Just two days before her death, Joplin made changes to her Will. She left $2,500 (which would equate to much more today) to pay for a posthumous all-nighter event for 200 guests at her favourite pub in San Anselmo, California, “so my friends can get blasted after I’m gone.” What a night that would’ve been.
9. The Nokia empire strikes back
You probably haven’t heard of the Finnish man Onni Nurmi, who died in 1962 at age 77 in his hometown of Pukkila – a town in Finland just 80km from Helsinki. Before he died, Nurmi held shares in a small company that produced rubber boots. The company was Nokia, which would one day diversify into a multinational telecommunications and consumer electronics giant. In his Will, Nurmi left his native village 760 Nokia shares – an astounding amount – with a set of instructions:
- don’t sell the shares; and
- spend the annual dividends on entertaining the residents in the village’s nursing home
In 1997-98, the share’s worth inflated, so the town found themselves sitting on million-dollar goldmines. The local council were understandably keen to sell the shares, but a small number of residents disagreed. After a three-year court dispute, the Pukkila town council established a foundation to oversee the sale of shares and dividends. A Guardian article from November 2000 stated that the aged care home in Pukkila had ‘long been the envy of old people for miles around and there [was] a long waiting list to get in. In the dining room, a portrait of Onni Nurmi takes pride of place.’ A pretty incredible story.
10. A space legacy
Last but certainly not least, it comes as no surprise to learn that Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry was obviously a huge admirer of space. Roddenberry was the first man in history whose cremated remains were flown to space! Talk about a stellar exit.
While these 10 Will requests can certainly serve as inspiration, it’s important to take the writing of your Will seriously. Your Will is a legally binding document, so your words evidently hold a lot of weight. It’s also worth noting that you can leave requests, but there is no absolute guarantee that they will be followed, and of course they must be within reason.
The good news is, if you’re thinking about adding some touching (or humorous) last messages, words of wisdom, or philanthropic requests, then it could certainly be a nice final touch. Whether your requests have romantic, funny, kind or obscure undertones, you’ll be leaving behind a legacy that people will be talking and writing about long after you’re gone.