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The 10 Strangest Inheritances of All Time

Jun 13, 2022 3:39:48 PM The MacMillan Estate Planning Team Trust Planning, Will Planning

An Estate Plan, Last Will and Testament, or a Trust can be built around anything a person could wish for. While some provisions and requests can be quite standard, there are also those that surprise even us after 25 years of business.

Paul Lindsey, a senior estate planner at MacMillan Estate Planning says that they can be built around any ideas you have in mind:

“When it comes to preparing your Will, you can, in theory, include any provisions that you see fit. Some of the strangest that I can recall would probably include a lady who gave me a detailed list of the teddy bears that should go into her coffin with her, or requests for music at funerals which perhaps did not contain the most obvious somber choices…”

While we at MacMillan thought we had heard it all when it comes to strange inheritances and their even stranger stipulations, a few incidents on this list took us by surprise:

You Have the Right Number

Luis Carlos de Noronha Cabral de Camara has noble Portuguese lineage. He spent a lot of his time alone and grew to distrust the government, who would inevitably benefit from his estate after his passing. He claimed the government had been “robbing him of money all his life.” Luis produced a plan to divvy up his estate among people who will appreciate it. He picked up a copy of the Lisbon phone book and selected 70 people at random to inherit his huge fortune.

In-Jean-ius Idea

A shopkeeper from Tuscan, United States named Solomon Warner left more than his small fortune to his family when he passed. He left a large cedar chest containing some of his most prized possessions. The chest included a family Bible, a saddle accompanied by a saddle blanket, and an original pair of Levi Strauss Co. jeans dating back to 1893. When Solomon’s descendant, Jock Taylor, opened the chest years later, he discovered the jeans were perfectly in-tact and had become a rare artifact due to a fire at a Levi’s factory that destroyed many original pairs of jeans. The Levi Strauss Co. offered Jock $50,000 USD to buy the jeans back but were denied due to sentimental value. The jeans are now 130 years old.

A Clean-Shaven Clause

When Henry Budd died in 1862, his hard work throughout his life meant that he had grown his estate to be worth around £200,000 (tens of millions in 2022). He decided to divide it up fairly between his two sons William and Henry. His choice of beneficiaries was and is quite standard practice. However, Henry Sr left an eyebrow raising clause in his Last Will and Testament. It stated that if either of his sons were to ever grow a mustache, they would forfeit their entire inheritance to their brother and neither they nor their descendants would ever be able to benefit from it.

Leaving his Body to Séance

Legendary magician and escapologist Harry Houdini passed away on October 31st, 1926. He left most of his fortune, to his wife Bess with one stipulation: every year on the anniversary of his death, Bess was to hold a séance in an attempt to communicate with him beyond the grave. The couple had pre-agreed upon a 10-word sentence, “Rosabelle - answer - tell - pray, answer - look - tell - answer, answer - tell” which was to be used as a code that they had once again found each other in different dimensions. The Harry Houdini séance still occurs annually to this day on the anniversary of his death - Halloween.

To Snub or Not to Snub, that is the Question

Another famous creative who left an unusual Will was William Shakespeare. While he left most of his estate to his daughter Susanna after his death, he left his wife with only one item - his second-best bed. For decades, this had been seen as a snub towards his poor wife, Anne Hathaway, who had devoted her life to him. However, some researchers have since come to believe that this gesture was actually a kind and generous act of love.

A Final Act… of Love

Comedian Jack Benny also left something for his wife in his Will when he died in 1974, though there can be no debate about the intentions behind it. During his lifetime, he was known for his perfect comedic timing and hilarious pregnant pauses, but in death he has become known for leaving behind one of the sweetest gestures of all time. Jack arranged in his Will for his wife Mary to receive a single long-stemmed red rose every day for the rest of her life. When Mary eventually passed away, she had received over 3,200 red roses from her late husband.

Hurtful Burt

While some celebrities are exceedingly sweet and kind in their death, there are also those that are quite the opposite. Wellington R. Burt was a self-made millionaire who passed away in 1919. He was ranked one of the eight wealthiest men in the United States for a period of time in the early 1900s. During his lifetime, he married twice and had seven children and two grandchildren. His offspring naturally expected to inherit a portion of his fortune upon their father’s passing, but it was not to be. Before his death, Wellington turned vindictive after a nasty argument with the city council about property taxes and decided to write and attach to his Will a 42-page list of personal grievances. One of the stipulations in his new Will, which his family was presented with after his passing, was that his entire fortune was to remain in a minimal interest-bearing bank account until 21 years after all his surviving children and grandchildren had died. This left his fortune to twelve descendants who inherited the $110 million USD in May 2011.

You Must be Maltese-in’ Me

Wellington R. Burt has not been the only multi-millionaire to rob their grandchildren of an inheritance. Luxury hotelier and real-estate billionaire Leona Helmsley left $12 million USD to her Maltese dog, Trouble. She left some money to two of her four grandchildren and to her brother, who was to use the money to care for Trouble. When she explained why her other two grandchildren would not receive a penny, she wrote that it was “for reasons that are known to them”.

The Cat’s Miaow-nsion

Another animal lover, Jonathan Jackson from Columbus, Ohio, drew out detailed plans for a mansion for cats, to be erected after his passing. It was instructed that the mansion contain dormitories, a refractory, areas for conversation, grounds for exercise, sloping roofs for climbing, rat holes for sport, an ‘auditorium’ for the cats to assemble daily to listen to an accordion - which was to be played for an hour each day, and an infirmary equipped with a surgeon and three or four nurses.

For Beer’s a Jolly Good Fellow

When a pensioner in the UK lost his battle with prostate cancer in 2013, he left behind an unexpected and surprisingly sentimental treat for his seven closest friends. Roger Brown left £3,500 to his long-time drinking buddies to go on a boys’ trip to any city of their choosing in Europe with the stipulation that they have one last drink on him. The friends chose to go to Berlin in 2015. They apologized to Roger’s sons for “taking away some of their inheritance,” but continued, “we spent most of it on beer; the rest we wasted.”

To hear Paul Lindsey and our CEO and Founder, Sheri MacMillan, share more stories and case studies, register for our next webinar, or call 1-833-266-6464.

At MacMillan Estate Planning, our team of professional trust and estate practitioners, chartered accountants, financial planners, and legal professionals look forward to assisting you with the design of your estate plan and will ensure you build, protect, and enjoy your wealth. The information provided is general and may not be suited to your objectives or sufficient to ensure the protection of you and your family. You should not act on this information without providing MacMillan Estate Planning with the opportunity to ensure that it is suitable for your unique situation.

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