The Leona Helmsley Will Thread has me thinking of odd wills in history. In that thread I mentioned Natalie Schafer (TV’s Mrs. Howell) and one of the Quaker State heirs, both of whom left millions to their dogs (like Helmsley did). Liberace also left millions for the care of his dogs (though it went to his other heirs afterwards).
What are some other odd bequests in wills of the rich and famous (and or just nutty)?
A few I remember- cites should be available if requested-
Shakespeare’s only bequest to his wife was his “second best bed”.
W.C. Fields left a fortune for the establishment of a private academy for orphaned white children (non-whites specifically excluded). His family broke the will. (Legends of his “hidden money” are probably exaggerated, though he probaby did have some.)
John Wayne left an odd structured payment to his children- something like $5000 for each year between their age at his death and their 21st birthday (so a 31 year old child, in other words, would inherit $50,000). No idea why he did this- I can only think that he assumed his youngest children would be provided for by their mother who inherited most of the marital estate.
Jokes about Howard Hughes’s fake wills made it onto Sanford & Son, Chico & the Man, and other sit-coms. Apparently they were coming out of the woodwork. (I know that his ex, Terry Moore [who wrote a book claiming among other things they were the reincarnations of Mormon pioneers], received a substantial payout from the estate, but the lion’s share was divided by distant cousins.)
Joan Crawford famously disinherited her son and her oldest daughter, the latter of whom famously wrote the mother of all celebrity tell-alls. Her archrival Bette Davis (quite understandably) completely disinherited the daughter who wrote a tell-all book about her in the last couple of years of her life. (The daughter is now a fundamentalist minister.)
One of the Texas oil billionaires- I can’t remember which- left a huge endowment to the University of Texas. One of his stipulations was that the school’s orchestra had to begin every season by playing his favorite song, Ol’ Black Joe.
William Frawley (Fred from I Love Lucy) had a much much younger longtime live-in lady companion when he died who he made no major provision for and she challenged the estate. Most of it went to his brothers and sisters anyway (he was divorced but had no kids).
Thomas Jefferson left fortunes to his daughters and grandchildren. Unfortunately, he was too deeply in debt for the bequests to be paid (though the state did honor the manumissions he gave 6 of his slaves).
George Washington manumitted all of his slaves in his will, delaying it til the death of his wife (which came 2 years after his). He asked Martha in the will to free hers as well (George and Martha each owned slaves independently of the others- Martha more than George due to inheritance from her father and first husband) but Martha declined. She divided her slaves among her grandson and granddaughter, the former of whom manumitted them in his will (though, like Jefferson, he died deeply in debt). His son-in-law, Robert E. Lee, used the slaves labor for 5 years in order to pay the estate debts enough to carry out the manumissions, and the last slave was freed ironically on January 1, 1863- the same day the Emancipation Proclamation came into effect.
Hermann Göring left his claims to 2 castles and vast estates in north Germany that he had owned to his wife and daughter, though of course these were long confiscated.