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Weird and wonderful celebrity wills

Updated 22 December 2022

2min read

Nick Green
Financial Journalist

As part of Write and Register a Will Week, unbiased.co.uk and Certainty.co.uk have joined forces to promote the importance of writing and registering a will #willweek.

Today we’re taking a peek at the bizarre and barmy wills of the rich and famous.

We’ve long been fascinated with the rich and famous: their relationships, their style and their wallets.  But what do they leave behind after the lights have gone down?

That’s magic.  Harry Houdini left his wife a secret code in his will, which he would use to contact her from the afterlife.  After his death, she conducted séances every year on Halloween (without success).

The bard’s bed.  William Shakespeare requested that his wife receive his “second best bed” in his will.  Generous.

Monkey madnessPatricia O’Neill, the daughter of the Countess of Kenmore, left her £40 million fortune to her pet chimpanzee, Kalu.

Out of this worldStar Trek creator, Gene Roddenberry asked for his ashes be scattered in space.

Once he’d popped… Pringles founder,  Fred Baur requested to be cremated and buried inside a Pringles can.

Fortune cookieMayfair millionaire, Golda Bechal, left almost all of her £10 million fortune to her favourite Cantonese restaurant.

Blowing smokeSamuel Bratt, who was a dedicated smoker left his non-smoking wife £330,000 on the condition she smoked five cigars every day.

ABCs.  Writer George Bernard Shaw left over £500,000 to develop the 40 letter ‘Shaw Alphabet’.

Crazy cats.  In around 1880, Jonathan Jackson left money for the creation of a cat house with bedrooms, a dining hall and an auditorium.

Barking mad? Heiress Eleanor E. Ritchey passed on her $4.5 million fortune to her 150 dogs when she died in Florida in 1968.

Party on!  Janis Joplin left $2,500 to pay for a posthumous all-night party for 200 guests at her favourite pub in California.

All that glitters.  Benjamin Franklin asked that his daughter not engage in “the expensive, vain and useless pastime of wearing jewels”.

Hair raising. Napoleon Bonaparte requested that his head be shaved and the hair divided up amongst his friends.

Lucky mutt.  Gunther IV, a German shepherd dog, inherited a reputed £90 million from his father (also a dog) Gunther III.  Papa Gunther had initially inherited his fortune from a German countess, Karlotta Liebenstein and the money was handed down to his pup.

Life after death.  John Bowman left $50,000 for servants to prepare dinner every night after his death in case he came back to life.

Yuck.  American hatmaker, S. Sanborn, willed that his skin was to be made into two drums to be given to a friend to pound “Yankee Doodle” every year on 17 June.

Legitimate heirs.  William Hearst left $1 to anyone who could prove “he or she is a child of mine” challenging claims he had children out of wedlock.

Even if your will isn’t as doolally as these deeds, it’s still important that your estate is managed correctly after your death.   Find out more about writing your will and keeping it safe.

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About the author
Nick Green is a financial journalist writing for Unbiased.co.uk, the site that has helped over 10 million people find financial, business and legal advice. Nick has been writing professionally on money and business topics for over 15 years, and has previously written for leading accountancy firms PKF and BDO.