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Where there’s a will, there’s weird

Updated 03 December 2020

3min read

Nick Green
Financial Journalist

It’s Write A Will Week from today until Sunday, so to kick things off we have some fascinating facts about the mysterious yet vital world of the will and testament. Some are useful, some are amusing and some are frankly bizarre. You won’t look at life (or death) in the same way again.


Do you have an up-to-date will? If you do, congratulations – you’re in the sensible minority. But whether your own will is signed and sealed or not, we bet you didn’t know some of these extraordinary will-related facts.

Why is it ‘will and testament’?

Don’t those words mean the same? Yes, they do. One is Old English, and the other is the archaic French that used to be used in English courts. Both languages were used together to make things doubly clear – a convention that also gave us ‘peace and quiet’ and ‘breaking and entering’.

The shortest will

The shortest will in history was made by Karl Tausch of Germany in 1967. He wrote simply ‘All to wife’. Being unambiguous, it was indeed legal.

Careless words cost a fortune

By contrast, using ambiguous words (easy to do by accident) can turn a will into a curse. How about: ‘I leave everything to my husband and on his death it is to be shared between my daughters.’ What’s wrong with that, a layperson might ask? But the legal interpretation of those words would cut the husband out of the will altogether – he would merely be holding the ‘everything’ in trust for the daughters, unable to spend any of it, because the will says that ‘everything’ is to be shared. Motto: get a solicitor!

The notion of an executor dates back to superstitious Romans

If an Ancient Roman died (even a young Ancient Roman) it caused a bit of a kerfufflus. Their tradition stated that his goods would become property of the gods, so to inherit those goods would risk enraging Jupiter or someone. To get around this (the Romans were great at loopholes) a Roman would symbolically ‘sell’ all his goods to a friend, called the Familae Emptor, who would then ‘let’ him keep them during his lifetime. When he died, the Familae Emptor would then distribute the estate according to the dead man’s wishes. Ingeniosus!

People don’t seem to think about wills in Northern Ireland

Our latest research has identified the places in the UK where the fewest people have made a will, and for no readily apparent reason, Northern Ireland came out worst. An amazing 68 per cent of adults there are currently intestate (i.e. without a valid will). By contrast the most forward-thinking place in the UK is Plymouth – though even there, exactly half of the adults have no will.

More than one in 10 people say they won’t make a will… EVER

The same research uncovered an even more bizarre finding. A sizeable 13 per cent of people said they did not expect to make a will ever in their lives. This rose to 18 per cent among people in their 20s, though unsurprisingly it was only 8 per cent among people over 60. This suggests that the younger generation simply aren’t yet informed about all the advantages of having a will – and the serious drawbacks of not having one.

Have you been wily with your will or are you willy-nilly? Do you know all the consequences of not having a will? Watch this space throughout Write A Will Week and find out.

To find out more about making a will, contact a solicitor through unbiased.co.uk. It will be worthwhile!

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.