Regardless of how much money or assets a person has, they need a last will and testament to ensure that their belongings are left to the parties they intend after death. But at times, those last words often include some unexpected details. Here are ten strange will and testaments of celebrities, inventors and heiresses who made some unusual last requests. (These certifications can lead to a promising career, see Estate Planning Certifications.)
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1. Harry Houdini
The renowned master escapee and daredevil died in 1926 on Halloween. Towards the end of his life, Houdini had become mystified by the idea of an afterlife and spiritual mediums. Houdini promised his wife, Bess, that he would contact her in the afterlife, using a pre-planned ten digit secret message that only she would know, to silence naysayers when she eventually reported his presence (she never did). His last will and testament also stated that a séance should be held each anniversary of his death.
2. Gene Roddenberry
The creator of Star Trek and inventor of the notable quote "to boldly go where no man has gone before" made certain to maintain that statement long after his passing. His last will and testament included instructions to have his ashes scattered via a space satellite orbiting earth. The act was carried out in 1997.
3. Charles Vance Miller
This Toronto-based attorney with a love of practical jokes kept on laughing straight to the grave after his death in 1926. His last will and testament bequeathed a large sum up for grabs to any Toronto woman who could produce the most offspring in the decade following his death. The result became known as the "Great Stork Derby." Four winners emerged in a tie for nine children; each received about $125,000.
4. Leona Helmsley
The tales of '80s greed wouldn't be the same without the real estate investor and hotel owner dubbed the "Queen of Mean". While she donated about $35 million to charities in the final years of her life, her good deeds were overshadowed by instructions to establish a $12 million trust to her Maltese dog in her last will and testament. The amount was later reduced to $2 million by a judge. By comparison, her grandsons were left $5 million each, but only on the condition that they visit the gravesite of their father each year. (Many people try to avoid this process altogether, making things difficult for heirs. Check out Top 7 Estate Planning Mistakes.)
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5. Eleanor Ritchey
Heiress to the Quaker State Refining Corporation, Ritchey left about $14 million to her 150 stray dogs. When the last dog died, the remainder was to go to Auburn University Research Foundation with the funds dedicated to research on canine disease.
6. Thomas Shewbridge
While not hugely famous in life, California prune rancher Thomas Shewbridge's last will and testament edged him a bit closer to notoriety following his death. He turned over shareholder rights of his estate to his two dogs, making them owners of 29,000 stock shares in the local electric company. The dogs regularly attended stockholders' and board of directors' meetings.
7. Nina Wang
Once dubbed the richest woman in Asia, Wang left her entire estate valued at $12.8 billion USD to a charity that she and her late husband, who was kidnapped, founded in 1988. The will was bitterly disputed in a lengthy and dramatic court battle between the charity and Wang's lover at the time of her death, Tony Chan. A fortune teller, married man and "opportunist", according to the judge who tried the case, Chan was accused of forging a fake will in an attempt to claim rights to the fortune.
8. Dusty Springfield
The British singer, known for such hits as "I Will Follow Him" made her cat a priority in her last will and testament. Instructions stated that the cat was to be fed imported baby food and serenaded with Springfield's songs. Additionally, the singer also arranged for the cat to marry his new guardian's pet cat.
9. Doris Duke
The heiress and daughter of James Buchanan "Buck" Duke, founder of the American Tobacco Company and North Carolina's Duke University, is said to have "never smiled in pictures" from childhood to death. Her passing created the Doris Duke Foundation, a charitable organization worth more than a billion dollars. However, her last will and testament also stated that $100 million was to be secured in a pet trust for her dogs. The matter was disputed in court for nearly ten years. In 2004, a judge finally awarded $20,000 to two of her former servants who had been caring for the dogs.
10. Mark Gruenwald
The Executive Editor of Captain American and Iron Man, as well as being involved in other Marvel Comics, Gruenwald stated that he wished for his ashes to be mixed with the ink used to print the comic books. They were.
The Bottom Line
While some final instructions are not ultimately upheld in a court of law, these ten individuals made certain to leave as much of a mark in their passing as they did in life, with their strange last will and testaments. (Trusts, wills, taxes and rules differ by country. Find out what you need to know about estate plans in Canada. Refer to Estate Planning For Canadians.)