What can I leave in my Will?

A Will that formally sets in place instructions for what should happen to your possessions on your death should be taken seriously. However, some use it as an opportunity to have the last word or make what will be an emotional period for family and loved ones a little more light-hearted. Others – generally at the shock of those left behind – choose to leave items to pets or charities instead of hopeful family members. In this article, our Private Client team looks at some of the strangest recorded Wills of famous historical figures and a few more unusual ones they have personally dealt with over their many years of experience.

Strangest Wills from Historical Figures 

Harry Houdini

Famed escape artist and magician Harry Houdini initially made a living conducting rigged séances. He re-emerged this interest in his Will, requesting an annual séance be conducted after his death – including a secret 10-digit code that he would use from the afterlife to prove his continued existence. His spirit never returned, but the tradition continued after his wife Bess’s death.

William Shakespeare

Surprisingly, Shakespeare all but excluded his wife from his will, instead leaving the bulk of his sizeable estate to his eldest daughter, Susanna. The renowned playwright and poet did leave his wife his “second best bed”. However, the request was separate from the Will, seemingly added in as a mere afterthought at a later stage.

 Jack Benny

When he died in 1974, his wife discovered that famous US comedian Jack Benny left an unusual but touching instruction in his Will. “Every day since Jack has gone the florist has delivered one long-stemmed red rose to my home,” his widow Mary Livingstone wrote in a magazine shortly after his death. “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.”

Leona Helmsley 

In 2004, billionaire hotelier Leona Helmsley left instructions for her $4bn (£2.5bn) fortune to be spent caring for dogs, having apparently re-thought an earlier draft that left it to the poor. Her nine-year-old Maltese, Trouble, received $12m (£8m) in the will, with her grandchildren either cut out or ordered to visit their father’s grave annually to inherit their share.

Larcomes Legal Limited

We spoke to Julian Quartermain about some of the most memorable Wills he has dealt with at Larcomes Legal and some of the unusual clauses that have been drafted in the past:

  1. “My tortoise,“Tommy”, to my son for his life (my son’s life not the tortoise) and upon his death to my granddaughter absolutely”
  2. “To my brother the sum of £1 – on the basis that this will be the only honest pound he would ever have received”
  3. “To my twin sisters my adult magazine collection absolutely “(the testator being 85 at the time he executed his Will and his twin sisters in their late 70s!)
  4. “My dog “Rusty” to my neighbours at …. but conditional that my other neighbours at … be allowed reasonable access to Rusty on times to be agreed between them “
  5. “I desire that my body shall be cremated, and my ashes scattered in the Solent – but only on a calm day “

At Larcomes, we understand that whatever the size of your estate or how much it is worth, all requests have value. However, regardless of what or how you intend to distribute your estate or to whom, you must draft your Will correctly to ensure it is both legally binding and efficient inheritance plans have been considered.

The Wills and Probate specialists at Larcomes Legal will be happy to speak with you regarding all areas of wills, probate, inheritance planning and trusts. Our Will writing solicitors are ready to help you to write or amend your Will so that it follows your wishes and that it has been drafted correctly. You can find out more about our team by clicking on the links below.

Julian Quartermain

Lisa Moore

Chloe Evans

To speak with one of our wills and probate team, please give us a call on 023 9244 8100 or make an online enquiry.