Weird and Wonderful Wills


Most of us at some point have probably thought about making a Will, yet surprisingly only 42% of UK adults have done so. We often wrongly assume that making a Will is something to do in the future, perhaps when we’re a bit older, because “nothing will happen to me yet”.

Every year, tens of thousands of people who have lost loved ones find that they have been left no instructions on how the estate of the deceased should be dealt with, giving them unnecessary stress in their time of grief.

Perhaps as a nation, we’re just not imaginative enough. After all, for some people a Will is not just a list of bequests; it’s the chance to leave a final thoughtful gesture to a loved one, or show a hopeful relative how much you actually preferred the dog to them. We’ve rounded up some of the more unusual Wills for anyone needing a little inspiration, or at least a bit of a laugh.

And yes – all of these are absolutely real!


That’s rotten luck..

Albert Orton from Coventry died a wealthy man in 1888 aged 70, though he only left one farthing to his wife. In his will he stated that this was because she called him a ‘rotten old pig’ every time he broke wind.


Cheers, mate!

We all like to think that our friends will raise a glass to us when we’ve gone, but Roger Brown made sure of it. The 67-year-old lost his life to prostate cancer in 2013, leaving behind a secret bequest of £3,500 to seven of his closest friends, with the proviso that they use it “for a boozy weekend away to a European city”. The group, who had all known the retired engineer for more than 40 years, had no idea he had written them into his will until a week after his funeral. They spent a weekend enjoying the sights of Berlin and celebrating the life of their late friend over one or two pints of German beer!


Baby boom..

Canadian lawyer Charles Millar died a childless bachelor in 1928. For reasons unknown, he decided to leave his $568,106 estate to “the woman who gives birth to the most children in Toronto in the 10 years after my death”. This odd bequest prompted what became known as ‘the Baby Derby’ by Canadians, as women raced to win the fortune. In 1938, the prize was split between four ladies who had given birth to nine babies each.


Don’t leave me hanging!

In 1932, the brother-in-law of Annie Langabeer from Surrey was puzzled to find he’d been left ‘two shillings and sixpence to purchase a length of rope’. The will then went on to suggest that he could use the rope to hang himself. He clearly wasn’t on Annie’s Christmas card list!


Barking mad..

Just before her death in 2004, billionaire hotelier Leona Helmsley rewrote her will, removing most of her family and scrapping a very generous donation to a local homeless shelter. She instead left her $4bn (£2.5bn) fortune to a charity to be spent caring for dogs. Separately, her own nine-year-old Maltese Terrier, Trouble, was to receive $12m (£8m) to “maintain her comfortable lifestyle”. Helmsley’s family successfully contested the will after she died, claiming that at the time the changes were made, she was lacking mental capacity.  Trouble’s inheritance was later cut to just $2m (£1.2m), although the dog still needed to go into hiding amid death and kidnap threats.


A reason NOT to go ex-directory..

It’s the stuff of daydreams and film scripts. When Portuguese aristocrat Luis Carlos de Noronha Cabral da Camara wrote up his will, he was considerably wealthy, but also very lonely. With few friends and no family, he left his considerable fortune to 70 strangers randomly chosen out of a Lisbon phonebook! “I thought it was some kind of cruel joke,” a 70-year-old heiress told Portugal’s Sol newspaper. “I’d never heard of the man.”


The bequest of the bard..

Isaac Cooke died in 1936, leaving his widow Alice behind. He left his entire estate to her, and wrote his will in a seven verse poem which begins: “To Alice Cooke, my loving wife, for her to keep or use. Without reserve throughout her life, however she may choose.”


All or nothing..

In 1928, a man made a £500,000 bequest to the British government. The anonymous donor was very specific about how the money should be spent however – it must only be passed on once it is enough to clear the country’s debt in its entirety. Sadly, even though the donated money is worth around £350,000,000 in today’s terms, the total national debt currently stands at £1.5 trillion and so the money still cannot be touched.


While it may seem funny to write jokes or odd requests into a will, it’s not without risk. Tempting as it may be to go out with a laugh, it’s probably better to err on the side of caution and to take your will seriously.

If you absolutely insist on an unusual bequest or stipulation, you should check if this could potentially invalidate the will. For more outlandish requests, it may be better to use what’s known as a non-legally-binding ‘letter of wishes’ to accompany the will itself.

It is recommended that you seek advice from a will-writing professional in the first instance to help you with the legal aspects of making your last will and testament. Here at The Hanley, we’ve teamed up with The Will Writing Company to offer this service in our branches. Give us a call today on 01782 255000 to find out more or arrange an appointment.


David Lownds

About the Author David Lownds
David is Head of Marketing & Business Development at The Hanley and has over 25 years of Financial Services experience. He is a keen supporter of the mutual sector and has an in-depth knowledge of the UK personal finance market.

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