Writing a will gives you the ability to decide exactly how you want your affairs to be settled after your death. You can outline everything from who gets what to how you want to be buried, and your loved ones are obliged to follow your wishes - however bizarre! Take a look at five people who took this to the extreme…
1. Jeremy Bentham
When he died in 1832, philosopher Jeremy Bentham bequeathed his body to University College London. Unlike others who donate their remains for educational purposes, Bentham requested that his preserved skeleton and head, dressed in his own clothes, be kept on display in the university. Unfortunately, attempts to preserve the head went awry, leaving it too hideous to be used in the display. The dressed skeleton was instead topped with a wax head, and placed in a cabinet in the university, where it can be seen today. For many years the actual head sat at the feet of its late owner, but it proved too tempting a target for student pranks; in 1975 the head was held to ransom by students, only to be released after the university agreed to make a £100 donation to the charity Shelter. After several other escapades, including time spent in a luggage locker at Aberdeen train station, the head is now in storage.
One of the many rumours about the skeleton is that it regularly attends university council meetings, and that its presence is recorded in the minutes with the words “Jeremy Bentham, present but not voting.”
2. Leona Helmsley
The New York hotel heiress died in 2007, and cemented her reputation as the “Queen of Mean” when she cut off her grandchildren and left the bulk of her estate - $12 million - to her dog, Trouble. During Helmsley’s lifetime, the pampered pooch was chauffeured around in a stretch limo and lived a life of luxury. Upon her death, the judge knocked Trouble’s inheritance down to $2 million, alongside millions left to Helmsley’s brother Alvin Rosenthal, who was charged with caring for the dog. When Alvin refused, Trouble was flown by private jet to Florida, where she lived out her days in style - until her death in 2010, her caretaker spent $100,000 annually on her care, including $8,000 for grooming and $1,200 for dog food. She also had a private security guard as she had received 20 to 30 death and kidnapping threats.
3. T.M. Zink
Zink was an attorney from Iowa in the United States, who died in 1930. The term “woman hater” is something of an understatement; he disinherited his wife and daughter, instead leaving a sum to be invested for 75 years, by which time he expected it to be worth around $4 million. He requested that this amount be used to fund a “womanless library”. Here are some choice extracts from Zink’s will:
“No woman shall at any time, under any pretense or for any purpose, be allowed inside the library, or upon the premises or have any say about anything concerned therewith, nor appoint any person or persons to perform any act connected therewith.”
“No book, work of art, chart, magazine, picture, unless some production by a man, shall be allowed inside or outside the building, or upon the premises, and this shall include all decorations for inside and outside the building.”
“There shall be over each entrance to the premises and building a sign in these words: ‘No Woman Admitted.”
The will also stated: “My intense hatred of women is not of recent origin or development nor based upon any personal differences I ever had with them but is the result of my experiences with women, observations of them, and study of all literatures and philosophical works within my limited knowledge relating thereto.”
Fortunately, Zink’s daughter Margretta had a court rule that he wasn’t of sound mind when he wrote the will, and she inherited everything.
4. Henry Budd
In his will, which came into force in 1862, a Mr Henry Budd imposed a bizarre condition on his two sons, who were set to inherit his estate. The will states:
“In case my son Edward shall wear moustaches, then the devise herein before contained in favour of him, his appointees, heirs, and assigns, of my said estate called Pepper Park, shall be void; and I devise the same estate to my son William, his appointees, heirs, and assigns. And in case my said son William shall wear moustaches, then the devise hereinbefore contained in favour of him, his appointees, heirs, and assigns of my said estate, called Twickenham Park, shall be void.”
5. Napoleon Bonaparte
When Napoleon died, he left very specific instructions regarding who should inherit his possessions - right down to his boot buckles. Perhaps the most bizarre of his bequests comes in the form of an unusual piece of jewellery:
“Marchand shall preserve my hair, and cause a bracelet to be made of it, with a little gold clasp, to be sent to the Empress Maria Louisa, to my mother, and to each of my brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, the Cardinal; and one of larger size for my son.”
Whether you want to provide for your pet, protect your children from ill-advised facial hair or simply decide your own funeral arrangements, making a will is essential!