Would it make sense to standarize wills and make odd bequests irrelevant?

You probably heard of Leona Helmsley’s will with a $12million trust for her dog and "In a truly remarkable will released on Tuesday, she stipulated, for example, that she be buried wearing her gold wedding ring, and that it never be removed. She also ordered that her tomb be “acid-washed or steam-cleaned” once a year, and made two of her grandchildren’s $10 million inheritance contingent on their visiting their father’s grave, demanding that a registration book be placed in the mausoleum to prove that they had shown up.

Perhaps wills are not really that subject to “goo public policy” considerations,
yet I get the feeling that they just provide yachts to competing lawyers trying to break them.

I know if I were dictator, they would be ignored, period. Death of rich people would be treated more like bankruptcy, where claimants would submit their claims in dollar amounts and a judge would do the math and pass out the checks.

That link might require a NY Times login, so here’s a different link

I’m curious; what’s wrong with stipulating that you be buried with your wedding ring? And if she paid to have her tomb cleaned, then what’s wrong with that?

(I’m not so sympathetic with the desire to drag the grandkids around, though, and I have mixed feelings about giving money to a stupid mutt…)

I’ve never understood the concept that children, or any other relative, are “entitled” to anything when a parent dies. The only reason there are default rules is so that, in the absence of specific instruction, we know what will happen to the estate of the decedent. Frankly, I’d just as soon see that all of a person’s estate is escheated (and I say that as the potential heir of roughly $10M+ as it currently stands).

I’m assuming you mean escheated to the government?

I have the impression, perhaps in error, that transfer of substantial estates takes place well before death. That is to say, assorted mechanisms (trusts, e.g.) are undertaken which will ensure that an actual death tax is never really applied to the sum total of the newly dead’s lifetime accumulations. But if you are arguing that all kids should start out on an even keel as they enter adulthood–god bless you, I agree with you, it would make a better world, and good luck getting that passed you commie bastard. :wink: I can’t even figure out how to tax wealth, much less take it away.

To the point of the OP: As long as we do get to own stuff, I think we should be able to make whatever kind of nutty disposition we wanna make, including getting buried in a gold Cadillac. Of course it’s the case that the nuttier it is, the more money attorneys can make, but hey, it’s found money…it’s not as if anyone but the original owners deserve it, (and possibly not even they).

They have no trouble in England. And we never did in the US until Kenney cut the inheritance taxes. He had a rep for helping the poor, but the rich paid a lot less than they did under Ike.

I’d actually wondered if it wouldn’t be possible to just state the inheritance in reverse: You can only collect up to some number, like one million, and the rest goes to the treasury.

OF COURSE Leona Helmsley’s will is absurd. She lived an absurd life. This is an extreme corruption of something that is generally good.

The fact that wills are often abused by rich assholes does not mean that we should do away with wills. Plastic surgery, large internal-combustion vehicles, and divorce are also very messy in the hands of the asshole rich, but I still want my right to all of those things should I find myself struck with a desire for them.

I would like to have a will in which I leave a modest sum or a few pieces of beloved property to some people I like. I think it’s reasonable to allow people to do so. I don’t really want a judge deciding to sell the lake house and disburse $36,345 to each of my sixteen children.

Conditional bequests are weird, though. How are they binding? Do they exist by way of contract law?

It’s her damn property to give away as she sees fit. End of story. The only circumstance when I can see someone having a right to someone else’s estate would be a spouse or possibly an underage child, but even no always.

Exactly. Fuck the government or anybody else who tries to grab what is rightfully the property of my heirs and assigns. I earned that wealth, so everybody else can just bugger off when it comes to making the decision as to what is done with it after I’m gone. If I want to set up my cats in luxury for the rest of their lives, so be it. It’s nobody else’s fucking business! You don’t want to meet the conditions I set in my will for you to inherit…also fine. The money will go elsewhere.

I’d rather my estate go to the Scientologists than to the US Government. And I want all Scientologists neutered and cast adrift on ice floes!

Indeed, rather than leaving 98% of her $2 billion dollar estate to charity, we should standardize wills so that her deadbeat grandchildren get all of it instead.

It’s win-win. Except for all the people the charity would have helped, but who cares about them, anyway? Much better to leave them with nothing so that we don’t have to honor Leona’s strange wishes.

OK, so I take the Scientologists will choose to let your money go “elsewhere” :smiley:

Sing it, Alpha. It’s her money, and she should be able to do whatever she wants with it (within the bounds of legality–I think we should shoot down the will if it specifies free cocaine for everybody at the wake).

It’s Keith Richards’ money, it’s Keith Richards’ funeral, I think he should be allowed to make whatever provisions make him happy.

I believe in heavy inheritance taxes for large estates (though the person should have the option of making it into a charitable trust) but the lion’s share should still go to whoever the person wants it to go to. I don’t think you have any legal obligation to provide for any member of your family other than

1- a spouse who has been married to you since before you acquired significant wealth (barring a prenup of course)

2- underaged children (I’ll even include college age who are 18-22 IF they’re actually in college)

3- any children or immediate family members who are dependent upon you for support due to physical or mental incapacity

Otherwise, if you’re of sound mind (major qualification) I think you should be allowed to leave it to your dog, your next door neighbor, or the guy you met on a bus 12 years ago and haven’t seen since. It’s your money.

If I had Oprah money I’d probably give my friends enough to do something major (buy a house [for cash], have a nest-egg]) but the rest would all go to charities (probably tiered on the Maslow scale- the bulk to low-income educational/training/legal aid charities and the tip to public arts).

I’ve known of a couple of nightmare cases where gay lovers were cheated out of willed inheritances due to legal intervention by relatives and I would NEVER wish that on anyone. I think as long as the person cannot be proven to be of unsound mind then the wills should be sacrosanct.

It’s good that you believe that the rightful owners of the money should at least have SOME say, under your conditions, as to how they would dispense with their wealth (minus, of course, their sizable stipend to the government).

That’s better than some of the more socialist members of the board who believe in the antiquated laws of escheat.

I view the whole situation as a free contract or a free (or at least should be) gift.

Obviously the illegal stuff (the free cocaine at the wake) can’t be honored. Barring that, why shouldn’t I be able to give my unencumbered property to whom I choose? Whether it is my kids, my grandkids, my nieces and nephews, my gay lover, the prostitute I knew a few years ago, or the dog?

Why does anyone else in this world feel they have a claim to my stuff? (or YOUR stuff if you prefer)?

I don’t see any reasons why Leona Helmsley’s grandchildren have a better claim to her money than her dog does. It was her money - let her give it to whoever she liked best.