At Darnell & Co we do a lot of estate planning and wills drafting for clients, so inevitably we come across testamentary requests that are just a little off the wall. Alas, as juicy as some of them are, professional ethics prevent us from talking about them.
Once probated however, wills become public documents, so we are allowed to snicker at some of the bizarre provisions that find their way into the last wills of the rich and famous.
Charles Dickens, for example, was a man after my own heart (and not just because of my favourite line in A Christmas Carol “Are there no prisons? are there no work houses ?”) Like me, Dickens abhorred the attire which most funeral goers affect, so his will stipulated the at “Those attending my funeral wear no scarf, cloak, black bow, long hat band or other such revolting absurdity”
And then there was famous escape artist Harry Houdini, who apparently thought he had a shot at escaping death itself. His will required his wife to conduct a seance each year on the anniversary of his death, so that he could communicate, in code, from the other side to let her know that his greatest escape had worked. She gave up after ten years , but apparently the tradition endures to this day.
Lawyers are amongst the worst offenders when it comes to weird wills. Take T.M. Zink, for example. An Iowa lawyer who died in 1930- he had a wee problem with women, leaving nothing to his wife, only $5 to his daughter, and the rest of his estate to build a “Woman-less library” not only would no women be allowed, but only books by male authors would be displayed! (As a lawyer he should have known the will would be challenged -it was, and the library was never built)
Canadian lawyer Charles Millar created a “baby derby’ when the details of his will became public. He gave his entire fortune to the Canadian woman giving birth to the most babies in the 10 years following his death (the derby ended in a four way tie between a quartet of women who each produced 9 offspring)
Lastly, we have American super -patriot Solomon Sanborn, who requested, in 1871, that his skin be made into two drums, one inscribed with Pope’s “Univesal Prayer”, and the other with the Declaration of independence, and further stipulated that the drums should be used each June 17th to beat out the tune of “Yankee Doodle ” on Bunker Hill!
I must say, the provision I made in my very first will, that I be given a viking funeral using the leaky sailboat I briefly owned as a law student, pales by comparison!