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Six of the most unusual Wills of all time

In the UK, less than half of adults have put in place a Will. This means that approximately 20 million people have left no formal instructions on who should administer their estate, and what should happen to their assets on their death.

For some, the intestacy rules (the rules that govern what happens after death if you die without a Will) might provide an adequate back-up; but for the many people this will not result in a desirable outcome.

It is particularly important to consider making a Will if you have: complex family circumstances, a large estate subject to inheritance tax, had multiple marriages or you co-own or co-habit a property with someone else. Your Will can also state your wishes regarding your funeral arrangements or organ donation after your death.

Over the years, there have been a number of more “creative” bequests in Wills which have generated media attention. The legal enforceability of such bequests remain to be seen. The most notable are as follows:

  1. William Shakespeare famously left his “second best bed” to his wife, Anne Hathaway. He left the bulk of his estate to his daughter Susanna. Under today’s law, Anne could potentially have had a claim against the Bard’s estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 on the basis that William’s Will failed to make ‘reasonable financial provision’ for her.
  2. Legal enforceability aside, one of the more romantic gestures was by US comedian Jack Benny whose Will famously stated that one red rose was to be delivered to his widow every day for the rest of her life.
  3. One public-spirited person left an instruction in their Will to “clear the national debt”. Unfortunately, because the wording of the Will meant that the “entire” national debt should be cleared, there were not enough funds to do so. With the national debt currently standing at £1.5 trillion, Britain can’t touch any of the deceased’s money, which is a shame for the Treasury, and it is doubtful that this was the deceased’s intention.
  4. Mr Roger Brown left a secret bequest of £3,500 to seven of his closest friends on the condition that they use it for a boozy European weekend getaway.
  5. A billionaire hotelier left instructions for her $4bn fortune to be spent caring for dogs, in particular her nine year old Maltese, Trouble, who was left $12m. Trouble’s inheritance was cut to a measly $2m by a judge. In the UK, it is not possible to leave money to a non-human beneficiary, but it is possible to make an arrangements so that funds are left for the care of an animal.
  6. A Portuguese aristocrat, Luis Carlos de Noronha Cabral da Camara was rich but had few friends and no offspring of his own. He left his considerable estate to 70 strangers randomly chosen out of a Lisbon phone directory. Lucky them!

“Going out with a laugh” by leaving amusing legacies in a Will carries risk, and it is highly advisable to take legal advice on the preparation of your Will so not to risk unintended consequences.

By taking advice from one of our qualified solicitors, you will find that making a will can be simple and straightforward. It will also give you absolute confidence that you have control over your estate. For further information and advice please contact a member of our private client team


Although correct at the time of publication, the contents of this newsletter/blog are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute, legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article. Please contact us for the latest legal position.

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