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Unusual and Creative Trusts and Wills of the Rich and Famous

Usually, when stories about wills and trusts created by the rich and famous are published, they are surrounded by disputes and controversy.  However, there are many examples of unusual and intriguing wills.  Following are several examples of unique last wishes that provide an interesting outlook on estate planning.

Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin FranklinIn 1785, French mathematician Charles Joseph Mathon de la Cour wrote a satire entitled Last Will and Testament of Fortunate Richard.  This satire was based upon Benjamin Franklin’s optimistic Poor Richard’s Almanack.  De la Cour found Franklin’s American optimism to be unbearable, inspiring his satirical writing in which he has the main character leave money in his will that cannot be used for 500 years. Despite the nature of the Last Will and Testament of Fortunate Richard, Benjamin Franklin found the idea of bequeathing money to an uncertain future charming.

Thus, in the codicil to his will, Benjamin Franklin left approximately $8,800 to the cities of Boston and Philadelphia (the amount split evenly between them).  This money came with one condition: it was not to be touched for 100 years, and at that time, only a partial withdrawal could be made.  The cities would have to wait another 100 years before touching the rest of the fund.  Upon Franklin’s death in 1790, the cities of Boston and Philadelphia obeyed his wishes and did not touch the money until the designated time.  The Franklin Fund is worth approximately $6.5 million today and has been used to benefit the cities and thousands of people.

Leona Helmsley

New York businesswoman Leona Helmsley, also known as the “queen of mean,” passed away in 2007.  Though Helmsley was known for her tyrannical management style, she became widely discussed after her death because of her unusual estate plan.  Leona HelmsleyThe Helmsley Trust had net assets of more than $5 billion.  Leona left $12 million to her beloved pet Maltese dog, Trouble.  After much outrage, a judge later reduced the figure to $2 million.  This odd, yet creative, “gift” displays just another way that the rich and famous choose to bequeath their fortunes in ways that the rest of us may find hard to understand.  It is certainly hard to imagine what I would do with $5 billion!  I’m sure that our three dogs would fit in some way.

Mark Gruenwald

Mark GruenwaldThough he may not be a household name, Mark Gruenwald’s work involved some of the most well-known comic book characters.  As the executive editor for Iron Man, Captain America, and many other Marvel Comics, it’s safe to say that Gruenwald took great pride in his work.  Upon his untimely death in 1996, Marvel Comics followed Gruenwald’s wishes for his ashes to be mixed with the ink used to print their comic books.  In this way, Gruenwald is able to forever remain with his beloved comic book characters.

Harry Houdini

Harry Houdini is certainly known for his creativity, so it should be no surprise that his will contains a unique and creative request.  When Houdini died in 1926, he had already become interested in the idea of an afterlife and spirits.  Harry HoudiniIn his last will and testament, Houdini requested that his wife hold a séance every year on the anniversary of his death, Halloween night.  He promised that he would contact her in the afterlife.  In preparation for this planned communication, Harry Houdini wrote a ten digit secret message that only his wife knew, so that she could correctly proclaim his presence when he appeared to her.  However, his wife never did report contacting Houdini after his passing, though she did uphold his request and performed a séance every year.

Fredric Baur

You’ve likely never heard of Fredric Baur before, but you are probably familiar with his most famous invention:  the Pringles can.  Baur was a chemist and an inventor who created numerous interesting creations.  He was so happy with his invention of the Pringles can, in fact, that he demanded in his will that he be cremated and buried in one! Upon his death in 2008, his children obliged and Baur was cremated and buried in a Pringles can.

Berk Law Group is Here to Help

Though these creative and intriguing last wishes display a humorous side to estate planning, it is important to take creating a will or trust seriously.  The probate of an estate can become quite complicated, costly and time-consuming if disputes arise.  Common issues involve whether the person had capacity or was unduly influenced, or how to interpret unclear provisions in a will or trust.

If you have questions about a probate matter or have a trust or will dispute, please contact us.  Our Arizona estate litigation attorneys have broad experience and will do their best to promptly and efficiently resolve your matter.

Photo Credits:

Franklin via SodaHead

Helmsley via Timeinc

Gruenwald via Marvel

Houdini via Metrouk2