The Craziest Wills in History

Dead Rich People do the Darndest Things

Written by Jimmy Mengel
Posted November 24, 2014

The question of who to leave your money when you're gone is typically a pretty easy one...

If you have a spouse and children, the money gets doled out pretty simply. If you aren't married and have no living family, you may decide to leave your earthly possessions to your favorite charity. And of course we've all heard the story of someone leaving a fortune to their long-lost niece.

As easy as it seems, there are still plenty of complications.

Do I give my wife everything and let her divvy it up?

Do I leave my house to my son since he has the most need for it?

Do I dare trust my fortune with my money-crazed daughter, who is sure to spend it on clothes and cars?

Plenty of serious issues arise and there is no one formula that everyone can adhere to. But after reviewing what some of the world's most famous people have done with their money after they pass, I'm pretty convinced that I can do a better job than some of these weirdos...

  • When William Shakespeare died, he left his “second best bed” to his wife. And this is the guy who wrote Romeo and Juliet? How romantic...

  • Napolean Bonaparte was perhaps the greatest military strategist the world had ever known... until Waterloo, that is. So on Napolean's lit de mort, he decided to give his closest friends a little something to remember him by: he divided up his hair and doled it out to all of his buddies. I'm sure they would have preferred a few francs tossed their way...

  • Robert Louis Stephenson, author of Treasure Island and Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, gave something completely intangible in his will: his own birthday. You see, his friend happened to have a most unfortunate birthday: December 25th. Obviously that birthday is overshadowed every year by Christmas. So Stephenson added this to his will:

    (I) Have transferred, and do hereby transfer to the said A. H. Ide, All and Whole of my rights and privileges in the 13th day of November, formerly my birthday, now, hereby, and henceforth, the birthday of the said A. H. Ide

So as you can tell, historical figures had a flair for the absurd when it came to parking their wealth after they pass on; though they weren't necessarily tied to dollars, fortunes, or treasures. While the above examples are more whimsical than financial, when you are worth millions and even billions of dollars, things get far more complicated.

The most modern wills I'm going to talk about have upwards of hundreds millions of dollars at stake. But they are still as ridiculous as the ones above.

And you'll be totally shocked when I tell you what the greatest investor in the world has planned for his own will...

The Great Stork Derby

The first will I'm about to detail is by far my favorite; not on the basis of how much money was at stake, but due to its humor and bizarre nature.

Charles Vance Millar was a Canadian lawyer and owner of a silver mine. He amassed a great fortune in his lifetime, though he died an avowed bachelor with no extended family to share his spoils. He was also one very funny dude with a penchant for practical jokes; for example, he used to plant bags of cash in crowded city streets and cackled while everyday folks scrambled and fought over them.

So how does a trickster millionaire treat his very own will? Here's how it began:

This will is necessarily uncommon and capricious because I have no dependants or near relations and no duty rests upon me to leave any property at my death and what I do leave is proof of my folly in gathering and retaining more than I required in my lifetime.

Millar then went on to bequeath brewery stocks to prohibitionists, race horse stocks to anti-gambling preachers, and even left a property in Jamaica to three lawyers who absolutely hated one another. Again, hilarious stuff, especially considering the immense wealth involved...

But after he was done divvying up his riches into practical jokes, he still had plenty of loot left over. So he dropped this bomb toward the end of his will:

All the rest and residue of my property wheresoever situate, I give, devise and bequeath unto my Executors and Trustees named below in Trust to convert into money as they deem advisable and invest all the money until the expiration of nine years from my death and then call in and convert it all into money and at the expiration of ten years from my death to give it and its accumulations to the mother who has since my death given birth in Toronto to the greatest number of children as shown by the registrations under the Vital Statistics Act. If one or more mothers have equal highest number of registrations under the said Act to divide the said moneys and accumulations equally between them.

Yes, he basically made a posthumous offer to all the women in Toronto to start getting busy — and fast. As word spread of Millar's deal, women all over the country began scrambling like mad to have as many children as possible. I'm sure the gentlemen in Toronto were tipping their respective caps to Mr. Millar for all of the extra bedroom shenanigans.

But in the end, he left the equivalent of $570,000 dollars — an absolute fortune in post-Depression world — to four women who bore “9 legitimate children within the material amount of time.”

Doggone Rich

When Leona Helmsley — real estate magnate and “Queen of Mean” — passed away, there weren't too many people shedding tears. She had ostracized practically everyone she came across, which is why she didn't leave money to family, friends, or charity when she died. She left it to her dog, a yappy, tiny-sweatered Maltese named Trouble.

Trouble was left a windfall of $12 million to spend on more chew toys, biscuits, and little doggy sweaters than he could ever dream of. Mercifully, a judge cut that figure to $2 million, knocking Trouble out of the top three richest domesticated animals in history. While researching this article, I was horrified to find that leaving millions to pets seems like a rather popular thing for delusional, lonely millionaires to do!

Behold...

  • Maria Assunta, widow of an Italian property magnate, left her entire $13 million dollar fortune to Tommaso — a stray cat she found in the streets of Rome. This wasn't just cash, the feral feline was also bequeathed with properties in both Rome and Milan.

  • Carlotta Liebenstein, a German countess, left her entire $80-million estate to her German Shepard Gunther III. Dear old Gunther paid her kindness forward, when he left his now $372 million fortune to his son: GUNTHER IV!

  • Patricia Cavendish O’Neill, a British-born aristocrat, always had a soft spot for animals. But things got a bit out of hand when she made Kalu, an over-30-year-old chimpanzee, the owner of her $80 million estate. O'Neill's husband wasn't just miffed about being knocked out of first place in her will, but Kalu was also known to steal his beer and cigarettes....

I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried...

Now, as a life-long owner of both dogs and cats — no chimps yet, but I'm working on it — I do admire the dedication of these kind ladies to their furry friends. But I can't help but think that these creatures won't be the best custodians of million dollar estates...

Godspeed,
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Jimmy Mengel

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Jimmy is a managing editor for Outsider Club and the investment director of the personal finance advisory, The Crow's Nest, and cannabis stocks advisory, The Marijuana Manifesto. For more on Jimmy, check out his editor's page.

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