10 Weird Will Bequests by Bilal Kaiser

10 Weird Will Bequests

With few restrictions on what can be doled out in a will, bizarre bequests have a long history in making their way into last wills.

by Bilal Kaiser
updated September 29, 2020 · 4 min read

Occasionally, last wills outline more than just final wishes for distributing personal assets upon one's passing. In addition to property or personal effects left behind, some wills note specific and, well, odd directives. Here are 10 examples:

1. Jack Benny

The iconic American comedian and actor from the 1930s to the 1960s wanted to leave his wife a gentle reminder of his love for her. After his passing in 1974, his will directed that a single long-stemmed red rose was to be delivered to her every single day for the rest of her life.

2. Janis Joplin

Recording artist and songwriter Janis Joplin, famous for her work in the 1960s and 70s, met a tragic death in 1970. Perhaps as a means of wanting to leave a positive memory for her family and friends, Joplin's will set aside $2,500 for a wake party in the event she passed away.

3. Harry Houdini

The famed magician who died in 1926 left in his will 10 random words to his wife. He stated in his will that she should hold a séance every Halloween following his death and that he would communicate with her through those 10 words. After his passing, his wife held such séances every year for 10 years, eventually stopping since Houdini did not make his presence known.

4.  John Porter Bowman

A tanner from Vermont in the 19th century lost his wife and two daughters and came to believe that upon his death the family would be reincarnated together. Before his passing in 1891, he set up a $50,000 trust fund to maintain his 21-room mansion and have a full dinner prepared nightly—in the event the Bowman clan came back to life on an empty stomach.

5. Napoleon Bonaparte

You're no doubt aware of the historical significance of Napoleon Bonaparte, but you may not know about an odd bequest in his will. Upon his death in 1821, his will directed that his head be shaved and his hair be distributed among his friends.

6. Gene Roddenberry

The man who created Star Trek was enamored with the universe so much that he found a way to connect with it post-mortem. After his death in 1991, his will directed that his ashes be launched into space in a capsule carried by a rocket. Unfortunately, that capsule eventually disintegrated into the atmosphere.

7. Mark Gruenwald

Mark Gruenwald was best known for his work with Marvel comics and serving as Executive Editor of Captain America and Iron Man. After a fatal heart attack in 1996, an interesting request was discovered in his will: He was to be cremated and his ashes were to be mixed with ink that could be used to print comic books—and they were.

8. Fred Baur

Fred Baur was the creative mind behind the Pringles potato chip can and received a patent for his design. It seems only fitting, then, that his inventive mind would want something different after his death. After passing away in 2008, his will directed his family to bury part of him in a Pringles can. And so they did. His family filled up a can with his ashes and buried the can with the rest of his remains.

9. Robert Louis Stevenson

Some bequests don't involve property or anything tangible at all. When Robert Louis Stevenson, author of the classics Treasure Island and the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, passed away in 1894, he left a friend something she would never forget. Annie H. Ide's birthday fell on Christmas day and she had confided in Stevenson feeling cheated out of a real birthday. So as part of his last wishes, he left her his own birthday of November 13.

10. Jonathan Jackson

The Columbus, Ohio animal lover who died in 1880 was very specific about how to care for animals. In his will, he wrote, “It is man's duty as lord of animals to watch over and protect the lesser and feebler.” For his part, he left his fortune to be used in the creation of a house for cats, where cats would have bedrooms, a gym, a dining hall and an auditorium where they could listen to live music. The house would also have a specially designed roof for climbing.

Whether you want to cover the basics or leave a little something extra, a will is your personal document where you can be as creative as you wish—as long as you stick to the basics of what's required and are clear in your directions. The last thing you want to leave is a legacy of internal strife among family members who challenge what you left in your will.

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Bilal Kaiser

About the Author

Bilal Kaiser

Bilal has been writing for LegalZoom since 2008. His areas of interest include entrepreneurship, small business marketin… Read more