Wills – the expected, the unexpected and the downright baffling

Real estate, money, furniture and artwork. These are all things people often choose to leave to others in their will. You already knew this, right? But they’re not the only things that can be left in a will. In fact, you might be surprised to find that sometimes the gifts or bequests people choose to make in their wills are just, well, a bit odd…

  • Virgil – a Roman poet – never completed his most well-known poem, the Aeneid. For this reason, in his will he requested that it be burnt following his death. Luckily for us, some of his friends found out what he had planned, and managed to persuade him to change his mind. The rest, as they say, is history.
  • In his will, Napoleon requested that, upon his death, his hair be shaved off and equally distributed among his friends. How very touching.
  • Here’s one that will probably surprise you. Robert Louis Stevenson is probably best known as the author of Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. What’s less widely known is that he left a rather unusual gift in his will. A friend of his had mentioned that she felt like she didn’t have a real birthday, since it happened to fall on Christmas Day. Apparently Stevenson never forgot, as he decided to leave his own birthday – yes, his birthday – to her in his will.

As well as being a way to make some rather unexpected gifts, a will can also be a way to exclude certain individuals (commonly, children) from an inheritance.

  • Bill Gates has stated that he plans to leave the majority of his vast fortune to charity, rather than to his children.
  • George Lucas sold the Star Wars franchise in 2012 for over $4 billion. He has since said that he plans to leave his billions to charity, rather than to his 4 children.
  • Instead of leaving his many millions to his son, our favourite music mogul, Simon Cowell, has said that he plans on leaving them to charitable causes – probably ones working with ‘kids or dogs’.

Surprising disinheritances aside, many people choose to use their wills to leave gifts to others, such as family members. But not every gift will pass successfully – in fact, a gift left in a will may fail for a number of reasons:

  • If the person you’ve left the gift to passes away before you, then the gift automatically fails.
  • It’s common for gifts to be left to a spouses or civil partner. However, if you leave a gift to your spouse or civil partner, then (unless you’ve indicated otherwise in your will) that gift will fail if your marriage or civil partnership is dissolved.
  • Uncertainty. If whatever it is that you’re leaving as a gift is too obscure to be suitably identified, then it’s likely that the gift will fail and therefore not pass as you’d intended.
  • A gift will also fail if the recipient would otherwise benefit from wrongdoing. For example, if whoever were to receive the gift had murdered the person whose will it was, that gift would fail. A little extreme, perhaps, but you get the idea.

So while having a will can allow you to do a variety of things, there are also restrictions. And because of this, it’s a good idea to know what you can do using a will, and what you can’t.

More on drafting your will

You could even, as Star Trek creator Gene Rodenberry did, request that your ashes be scattered in space. Then again, maybe not.

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