People are weird. People’s possessions are weird. What people do with their possessions is weird. Estate planning isn’t so weird. In fact, it’s a regular “adult” thing to do, and it’s pretty crucial if not slightly necessary for the wellbeing and comfort of your family and loved ones.
When you’re an estate planning attorney, even in notorious Daytona Beach, Florida, it’s not very often that you come across weird wills or quirky (or downright disturbing and perplexing estate plans), but after hearing a few “doozies” on the topic of famous weird will requests, I’ve compiled some that might give you a laugh, a shock––or just make you scratch your head a little.
Here are 13 of the weirdest last will and testament requests in the history of estate planning:
- The guy that wanted his skin turned into drums and played to the tune of “Yankee Doodle” once a year.
When S. Sanborn (an American hat maker) died in 1871, he left his body to science, bequeathing it to a guy named Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., (a professor of anatomy at Harvard Medical School). Sanborn’s will stipulated that two drums were to be made out of Sanborn’s skin and given to a friend. There was another condition: every June 17 at dawn his friend was instructed to drum out the tune “Yankee Doodle” at Bunker Hill in order to commemorate the anniversary of the famous Revolutionary War battle. The rest of his body was “to be composted for a fertilizer to contribute to the growth of an American elm, to be planted in some rural thoroughfare.” How cute.
- William Shakespeare lovingly giving his wife his “second best” mattress.
When Will Shakespeare died in 1616, he left something of question in his last will and testament: He bequeathed his “second best bed” to his wife, Anne Hathaway. Historians have speculated about the act; however, leaving a bed to someone in those days wasn’t all that weird (a quality bed with no fleas or pests was highly prized)––but why she got his “second best” one is still a mystery.
- The rich dude that believed in reincarnation, so he kept paying his large group of staff members to keep up his mansion for almost 60 years after his death… Can you imagine the house parties the servants must have thrown?
John Bowman (1816-1891) believed in reincarnation so much, it drove him to leave a trust of $50,000 for his afterlife along with his wife and daughters. The trust paid to maintain his mansion and for the servants to serve dinner each night on the off chance that the family were hungry when they came back from beyond the grave. This continued until 1950 when the trust ran dry.
4. The lady that left a running sum of over 14 million to her dogs.
Eleanor E. Ritchey, heiress to the Quaker State Refining Corporation, passed on her $4.5 million fortune to her 150 dogs when she died in Florida in 1968. The will was contested, and in 1973 the dogs received $9 million (must have had a decent attorney). By the time the estate was finally settled, its value had jumped to $14 million but only 73 of the dogs were still alive. When discussing the female canines left in the will, sources say the term “rich b****” comes to mind. When the last of the family dogs died in 1984, the remainder of the estate went to the Auburn University Research Foundation for research into animal diseases.
- Grace Kelly’s dad snubbing members of the male persuasion from his final will and testament.
Grace Kelly‘s father, John B Kelly, had a somewhat notable request in his will. He left his vast fortune to his daughters ONLY, purposely leaving his son-in-laws out. He stated, “I don’t want to give the impression that I am against [them]. If they are the right type, they will provide for themselves and their families, and what I am able to give my daughters will help pay the dress shop bills which, if they continue as they started out under the able tutelage of their mother, will be quite considerable.”
- Janis Joplin’s freaking-awesome “Party Clause” – added to her will two days before her death. Now that’s timely estate planning for you…
Another notorious celebrity will tidbit for you: Known for her heavy drinking and drug use, Janis Joplin died of an overdose on October 4, 1970. Janis made changes to her will just two days before her death. She set aside $2,500 to pay for a posthumous all-night party for 200 guests at her favorite pub in San Anselmo, California, “so my friends can get blasted after I’m gone.” The bulk of her estate reportedly went to her parents.
- Houdini’s will requests discussions with his wife from beyond the grave, in the afterlife.
Harry Houdini’s will insisted his wife conduct a seance each year so he could see and speak to her, and he included a special code so that she’d know it was his spirit…
8. The Star Trek star’s will that states his ashes go galactic when he’s goners.
Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry demanded his ashes be buried in space. Cool, makes sense I s’pose.
9. The estate planning move involving a requested burial in a Pringles can. Yes, a Pringles can.
Pringles founder Fred Baur’s last will and testament requested he be cremated and buried in a Pringles can. Enough said. If you’re interested in the topic, here’s a TIME article that goes a little deeper into the matter.
10. Another rich lady with a dog, but this one’s not so heartwarming.
Businesswoman Leona Helmsley left her family out of the will, and her 12-million dollar fortune went to her Maltese.
11. And now for the sweetest estate planning last will and testament request ever made, ever:
Before passing away from pancreatic cancer in 1974, comedian Jack Benny left a large sum of money in his will to the local florist, with the promise that one long-stemmed red rose be delivered to his wife of 47 years, Mary, everyday for the rest of her life.
12. The guy who wanted to be embalmed and stuffed with hay so he could sit and stare at you forevermore.
You can make some pretty outlandish requests in your will, but this one’s out there: Lawyer, philosopher and social reformer, Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) – as per his will’s instructions – was embalmed, stuffed with hay, dressed, and placed in a chair. His body is displayed at University College London in a glass case.
13. Author leaves his literal birth date to a friend who had that dreaded “Christmas Birthday” curse. Nice guy!
Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Treasure Island, decided not to leave money or property to loved ones, but something far more personal: His birthday. He gave his birthday to his friend Annie H. Ide, whose birthday fell on Christmas day and who admitted to Stevenson that she felt cheated out of a “real birthday” – He left her his birthday of November 13th.
And there you have it, the weirdest will requests in estate planning history. Which one shocked you the most, let us know on Facebook.
About Heidi S. Webb, Attorney at Law: Heidi Webb is a Daytona Beach estate planning and small business attorney serving the areas of Daytona, Ormond Beach, Port Orange, and beyond with wills, trusts, medicaid planning, small business law, and more. For estate planning and small business tips, follow Heidi S. Webb Attorney at Law on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+.