There’s an hilarious movie about tontines, The Wrong Box. It stars Michael Caine, Ralph Richardson, Dick Gregory, Dudley Moore, Peter Cook, and a bunch of others.
It’s available on DVD

What’s with tontines, the odd annuities in which you benefit when others die?
The book, by R.L. Stevenson with stepson Lloyd Osbourne, is also fun and silly, an engaging and entertaining read. If neither the book nor the movie convinces you against tontines, then you’re welcome to subscribe to mine.

Costain’s The Tontine is probably his best book. Just make sure you don’t get the edition that stops at “End of Volume 1”. I’m still haunting the Goodwill for volume 2.

Funny, years ago, all you could find was Volume 2. Go figure.

There is also a MAS*H episode where Colonel Potter is the final recipient of a tontine benefit. It appears tontines don’t have to be cash.

And as long as we’re listing cultural references, The Simpsons also did an episode based on a tontine; Abe Simpsons and Monty Burns were the last two survivors.

Are tontines legal anywhere?

From Wikipedia:

This leads to the critical question: How did this episode turn out?

I assume the safe burned up or the paintings were worthless. Anybody know?


The paintings were claimed by the heir of the original owners (they were stolen from a German family during WWII).


As noted in the Wikipedia article, joint tenancies with right of survivorship are similar to the tontines of popular imagination (although not apparently to the traditional tontine where the capital escheats to the State). They’re pretty common – my wife and I have a JTWROS in the car we co-purchased before we were married. (Which I’m told is a bad idea because of liability concerns.) The JTWROS requires “the four unities” – the joint tenants get their interests at the same time, have the same title (that is, no tenant’s interest is conditioned or burdened differently), have the same share of the property (1/2 for two joint tenants, 1/11th for 11 tenants, etc.), and all tenants have full right of possession – no other tenant can bar them from use of the whole property. But unlike a tontine, it’s easy to get out of a joint tenancy if you want, and with the four unities there is some protection from the unsavory aspects of the tontine. But there might still be situations where joint tenants would kill each other for the property.


If you want to read the book, you can forego the $12.99 plus shipping and read it online here.

Well - Lucky me - I have both, volumes 1 and 2. Bought them in a Library Used Book Sale in Arvada, Colo. many years ago. I´d loan you my copy, but it´s in storage in Idaho and I´m living in Brasil. Good hunting!

Macht schnell with da pretty pictures!

As I recall that epsiode, the State Department decided the ‘rightful owner’ was a descendent of Adolf Hitler. Thus the two small-time thieves get outdone by a descendent of one of the big criminals of that war.