Odd gifts left in wills

Regardless of your financial situation, the need to have a legally binding will is becoming ever more important, not only for dealing with cash assets but also to ensure family heirlooms are passed on to the correct loved ones.

In the UK we still have a situation where less than half of the adult population actually have a will, and if they do it is not regularly reviewed in line with changes to individual’s circumstances.

Odd gifts left in wills regularly catch the attention of the public eye, and whilst not everyone will make such strange requests it is important to know that if you do have something out of the ordinary to leave behind, you are not the only one.

Here are our top 5:


  1. Harry Houdini

Magician and escape artist Harry Houdini died in 1926 aged 52. In the years before his death he developed an interest in spiritualism and séances due to the loss of his mother.

In his will, Houdini left his wife a note containing 10 random words which he said he would use to communicate with her after his death. Unfortunately for his wife, who held séances every Halloween for 10 years, Houdini never made contact.


  1. Napoleon Bonaparte

French Revolutionist, Napoleon Bonaparte made a strange request in his will upon his demise in 1821.

His last wish dictated that his head be shaved with his hair distributed amongst his friends.


  1. Janis Joplin

American musician Janis Joplin, who rose to prominence in the 1960’s died of a drug overdose in 1970 aged 27.

After making changes to her will just days before her death, she put aside $2,500 top pay for a wake party for 200 guests at her favourite venue, so her friends could celebrate her life in style.


  1. William Shakespeare

English poet and playwright Williams Shakespeare died in 1616 aged 52.

His relationship with his wife, Anne Hathaway was deemed by many as being problematic, fuelled by Shakespeare leaving an unusual request in his will that his wife receive only his ‘second-best’ bed.


  1. John Bowman

Not as high profile an individual as the others, but a strange request all the same. John Bowman, a US tanner by trade died in 1891.

He believed that upon his death, he and his family would be reincarnated together, so he set up a $50k trust fund to keep his mansion maintained, with servants preparing a nightly dinner party in case he and his family came back to life on an empty stomach. Unfortunately the trust ran out of money in 1950 with the Bowman’s never returning.


Whilst it is interesting to try and get an insight into historical figures minds, the underlying message here is, no matter what your circumstances or the value of your estate, the only way to ensure your last wishes are carried out how you want them to be is to ensure you have a legally drafted and up to date will.

Sutton McGrath Hartley is a multi-disciplinary firm of chartered accountants, financial advisers and lawyers offering comprehensive financial expertise for all business, personal and family interests. Our specialist Wills & Probate department can help with wills, trusts and estate planning. To discuss your requirements please contact Ben Schofield on 0114 266 4432 or bschofield@suttonmcgrathhartley.co.uk.

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