Saturday, September 20, 2003
M A I N   F E A T U R E

Weird wills
Roshni Johar

Leo Tolstoy bequeathed his possessions to the stump of a tree
Leo Tolstoy bequeathed his possessions to the stump of a tree

ECCENTRICS have written weird wills, bequeathing both their immovable and movable properties, in equally queer ways.

One eccentric wrote his will not on paper, but on his door in red chalk, making two witnesses sign it also. However, the honourable court refused to consider such a will, branding it an absurdity, even declining to admit photographs of the door and the will. With no alternative left, the executers unhinged the door to produce the will in the court!

Wills have been minutely written on watches and even inked on flour bags. Incredibly enough, the famed Leo Tolstoy bequeathed his possessions to the stump of a tree.

A Tree Deed was penned by William H. Jackson of Athens, Georgia, in 1850. He was so fond of his oak tree which grew on his land, that he wrote a will giving full possession of the tree and the land on which it grew.


Strangely, many testators have bequeathed large legacies to animals. Seventyfour-year-old Catherine Olberg left her house and money to her dogs and five cats. Bears in a Swiss zoo were once willed a fortune. A Cuban parakeet and a cocker spaniel were given three thousand pounds, over which the kith and kin of the deceased fought a losing legal battle.

German Countess Carlotta Liebenstein expired in 1991, leaving an incredible fortune of one hundred and thirtynine million German marks to her beloved pet dog Gunther III. His only offspring and heir Gunther IV literally lives in the lap of luxury with a personal maid, a chauffer-driven limousine and a custom-built swimming pool.

Denmark’s newspaper Ektra Blaset reported that an eightythree-year-old Danish woman, who died issueless, left her entire fortune of sixtyseven thousand euros (i.e. sixty thousand dollars) to six chimpanzees housed in a Copenhagen zoo. To execute her will and in accordance with the Danish law, a lawyer went to the zoo to read the will out to the chimpanzees named Jimmy, Trunte, Fifi, Trine, Grinni, and Gigi. The lawyer joked that they behaved in an exemplary manner, not disputing it at all.

The tiniest will was written on reverse of an ordinary postage stamp, and properly signed by witnesses. It obviously had to be deciphered with a magnifying glass. The world’s longest will consisted of ninetyfive thousand words. It was written painstakingly by a woman who took more than twenty years to complete her task. Always lying by her side, her friends mistook it to be a book she was writing.

Eccentricities have no end. A French left a will, leaving his fortune to the first person who had received a signal or talked to an inhabitant of a heavenly body other than Mars. Obviously, the fortune still lies unclaimed.

A queer old Finnish bequeathed all his possessions to the Devil. Ultimately, the government took possession of his property.

A Londoner willed his worldly wealth to his sons on the strict condition that they would not inherit the legacy if they became Members of Parliament or undertook any form of public office, speculate on stock exchange, convert to any other religion or even marry outside the Jewish faith.

A French doctor left behind a sum as an annual prize to be awarded to any man or woman possessing ‘the finest nose’. The competition was open to all nationalities, (except the Russians), provided each competitor had red hair and black eyebrows.

Some testators make strange requirements for their funerals. A Viennese millionaire, very scared of darkness, desired his coffin to be permanently lit. A rich Californian demanded that if green grass over his grave turned yellow then his vast trust fund would become null and void. Declaring his native country as ‘a nation of bastards and fools,’ a Frenchman bequeathed his fortune to the poor of London and desired that his body be thrown into the sea a mile from the English coast. The Prince of Islington willed that four days after his death, two skilful surgeons (each to be paid six pounds) should operate upon him to make sure that he is actually dead.

Often eccentrics phrase their wills in a quaint manner. Leaving a part of a large fortune to his wife, a man wrote, "She has been troubled with one old fool, she should not think of marrying a second." An Italian bachelor Signor Pietro Bozzalia gave his luxurious mansion at Biella to "old maids who have no hope of marriage."

A wealthy New Yorker left the following will: "To my wife I leave one dollar and the knowledge that I wasn’t the fool she thought I was. To my son, I leave the pleasure of earning a living which he had not done since thirtyfive years. To my daughter, I leave one thousand dollars. She will need it. The only good piece of business her husband ever did was to marry her. To my valet I leave the clothes he has been stealing from me regularly for the past ten years. Also my fur coat that he wore last winter when I was in Palm Beach. To my chauffeur, I leave my cars. He almost ruined them and I want him to have the satisfaction of finishing the job. To my partner, I leave the suggestion that he take some clever man with him at once if he expects to do any business."

A man left a farthing to his wife to be sent to her in an unstamped envelope — perhaps for nagging him?