Recently, I came across a newspaper article headed '10 of the Strangest Wills of All Time'. I was naturally intrigued, being a lawyer who writes Wills myself, and it proved to be an interesting read.
It got my fellow Will-writing colleagues and I thinking about oddities in Wills that we have come across in our work.
One colleague recalls dealing with a Will leaving someone’s entire estate to a cat! Animals cannot benefit under a Will, so the gift failed and his estate ended up passing under the laws of intestacy – no doubt to relatives whom he would not have wanted to benefit.
Another colleague administered the estate of someone who’s Will simply said, “I leave all my money to my son”. Surprisingly, the legal definition of the word “money” for this purpose did not include cash held in a deposit account and several other forms of cash that you may usually regard as “money”.
A few years ago, I saw a Will where a husband had left five pennies to his wife and his entire estate elsewhere! A colleague tells a similar tale, of a homemade will which left an estranged wife, who had run off with a lorry driver (or should that be driven off?) with 57 Yorkie bars as an inheritance.
Indeed, there are many instances where Wills have been used to give a final ‘snub’ to a lifetime partner. The newspaper article talked of a German poet leaving his estate to his wife, but only on the condition that she remarried, so that “there will be at least one man to regret my death”! There is also the famous gift by William Shakespeare of his “second-best bed” to his wife, whilst leaving the bulk of his estate to his daughter. And so the list goes on...
Other individuals have used their Wills as a final opportunity to display their sense of humour, or to try to give some enjoyment to those left behind. In 2013, it was reported that after a brave battle with cancer, a gentleman left a secret bequest of £3,500 to his friends for a boozy weekend away to a European city.
Perhaps the shortest Will ever recorded read simply “all to Mother”. Even this turned out not to be so simple however, as the Court ruled that “Mother” was in fact the deceased’s wife. By contrast, the longest Will ever recorded consisted of 95,940 words on 1,066 pages. I am certainly glad I was not administering that estate!
Whilst the thought of using your Will for revenge, humour or to display feelings may be tempting, it is best kept solely for the purpose for which it is intended – to ensure your estate is dealt with by those you choose, and that it is distributed to those you wish to benefit. Including such oddities, however harmless they may seem, could have adverse implications which could be quite the reverse of what was intended. A letter of wishes to place with the Will, for example, could be a far more suitable way of recording messages to be passed to loved ones on death.
A Will is an extremely important document, and something which is often overlooked by so many of us. When drawn up properly it can vastly reduce the burden upon those left behind. However, when drawn up incorrectly, the problems it can cause can have a devastating effect on your loved ones and so it is far better, and safer, to have one drawn up professionally.
For further advice on making a Will, please contact Hannah Furr on 01767 680251 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org