Legal Brief for February, 2017

Some Strange Requests In Wills

When taking instructions for a Will from a client a lawyer will always ask if they wish to provide for any specific gifts of cash or personal items to designated beneficiaries or if they have any special requests that they would like recorded in their Will.  Most such instructions follow what would be considered as conventional lines.  Some folks however, regardless of wealth or fame or the lack thereof, seem to relish departing from conventionality, and as a result have left the rest of us with a legacy of humour as we consider their shall we say "unusual" wishes.  Here is a sampling of a few notable examples of such planning:

  1. an anonymous donor in the U.K. made a bequest in 1928 to the British government of half a million pounds (now worth roughly 500 million C $) on condition that it could only be spent by the government once it was enough to pay off the national debt.  Sadly, the national debt of the U.K. in all the years since has never been low enough to be under the half million pounds mark, and the money remains in trust to this day.
  2. Fred Baur was the inventor of the can that is used for Pringles potato chips.  He actually received a patent in the U.S. for his design.  He left a provision in his Will that directed his family to bury part of him in a Pringles can.  In homage to his wishes, his family did just that, filling up an actual Pringles can with his ashes, and burying the can with the rest of his remains upon his death in 2008.
  3. the Bard of Stratford on Avon, aka William Shakespeare, famously provided in his Will that his "second-best bed" was to go to his wife, the former Anne Hathaway.  In case you were wondering, his "best" bed went to his daughter, Susanna Shakespeare, along with the bulk of his estate.  Under present day matrimonial laws Anne would have the right to contest the Will for lack of appropriate provision for her needs, and it is quite likely that out of such contest she would have emerged with the "best" bed as part of the deal.
  4. the billionaire hotelier Leona Helmsley, who died in 2007, left a $12 million trust fund for the care of her beloved white maltese dog, named Trouble (who apparently had lived up to her name by biting a housekeeper in one of Leona's hotels).  Leona was known as the "Queen of Mean" and was famed for her statement after being charged in the 1980's for tax evasion that "Only the little people pay taxes." Hmmm, I wonder if she was pals with the fellow now occupying the White House? In case you were wondering, Trouble died in December, 2010, and in her final years the biggest expense for her care was a 24/7 security team to guard against him being kidnapped or killed, as there were many death threats actually issued against her following public outrage over the terms of the Will.
  5. and the last one to mention is actually very touching and poignant.  The legendary U.S. comedian Jack Benny left a provision in his Will that a single red rose was to be delivered to his wife every day for the rest of her life.  Mr. Benny died in 1974.  His wife, Mary Livingstone, died in 1983.  The rose tradition was actually a continuation of something that Jack had started before they were married and they were both working at the same film studio.  He had been smitten by Mary but was too shy to actually go and talk to her, and instead had a red rose delivered anonymously to her desk every day.

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