A last will and testament can often provide insight into a person’s final fortunes, thoughts, and wishes, right down to who should receive his or her hair strands. For today’s blog, I decided to research fascinating (and sometimes questionable) provisions in last wills and testaments. I share with you some of the most intriguing requests and bequests in the last two hundred years:
- Happy birthday, Mr. President
Marilyn Monroe left all of her belongings and clothing to her acting coach, Lee Strasberg. Marilyn’s will instructed Lee to distribute her belongings to her closest friends at his discretion. However, Lee never carried through with Marilyn’s instructions. Instead, he stored Marilyn’s belongings in a warehouse. After his death, Lee’s widow sold the bulk of Marilyn’s belongings for over $13 million. One of the items auctioned off was Marilyn’s white piano, sold to Mariah Carey for over $660,000.00.
Another item auctioned off was the famous dress Marilyn wore as she sang happy birthday to President Kennedy in 1962. The custom-made Jean Louis gown was first sold at Christie’s auction in 1999 for $1.27 million.
Recently, in November 2016, the dress sold at Julien’s Auctions for $4.8 million. The original cost of the dress? $12,000.00.
- A Frenchman’s Hair
Napoleon Bonaparte, a military general and the first emperor of France, executed his last will in April 1821. In 2013, the only known copy of Napoleon’s will was sold at an auction for $483,000.00.
In his will, Napoleon requested that his head be shaven and his hair be given to his friends and family. His hair was taken during his exile on St. Helena, a small island in the South Atlantic where Napoleon spent his final years after his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo. In 2015, a single strand of Napoleon’s hair sold for £130 at an auction.
Napoleon also requested that his ashes “may repose on the banks of the Seine, in the midst of the French people, whom I have loved so well.” His wish was not executed. Napoleon died in May 1821 in St. Helena. Twenty years after his death, during the retour des cendres (the “return of the ashes”), Napoleon’s remains were brought back to France and laid to rest at Les Invalides in Paris.
- Six Feet Under
Sandra West, California socialite and oil heiress, died at the young age of 38. In her will, she left a large sum of money to her brother-in-law on the condition that he bury her in accordance with her wishes: “in my lace nightgown… in my Ferrari, with the seat slanted comfortably.” Her request was respected. In 1977, Sandra was laid to rest in the manner she wanted, in a lace dress, sitting in her powder-blue 1964 Ferrari 330 America. It is estimated that the Ferrari is now worth over $300,000.00. Before you get any ideas, the car was encased in a box and was covered in cement to deter car thieves.
- Roses from Beyond the Grave
Jack Benny was an American comedian. Jack died in 1974. In his last will, Jack left a large sum of money to a local florist with the promise that one long-stemmed rose be delivered to his wife of 47 years, Mary Livingstone, every day for the rest of her life. After Jack’s death, the florist delivered a rose to Mary daily until she died 9 years later. In case you were about to pull out a calculator, that is 3,285 roses.
- The Great Stork Derby
Many have heard of Charles Millar, a Canadian attorney, who left a will so peculiar that a movie was made about it. Charles died in 1926. He never married and never had any children. Apparently, he was a funny guy and couldn’t resist a few last laughs in his last will. In his own words, the will opens with the following clause:
This will is necessarily uncommon and capricious because I have no dependents or near relatives and no duty rests upon me to leave any property at my death and what I do leave is proof of my folly in gathering and retaining more than I required in my lifetime.
For one thing, he left his property in Jamaica to three lawyers who hated each other. He also gave stocks in a brewery to religious leaders known for their prohibitionist views, and left shares in the Ontario Jockey Club to opponents of gambling.
But, that’s not all. In what came to be known as the Great Stork Derby, Charles left the residue of his estate to the woman who bore the most children by the 10th anniversary of his death. After a long, hard-fought battle, four women shared the prize, each having given birth to 9 children in 10 years. Two other mothers settled out of court for smaller amounts.
A will and testament is not just a document reflecting how a person wishes to distribute his or her property. It can depict a person’s character, too. If you would like to read more about interesting wills, stay tuned for this writer’s next blog.