| Monday, November 21, 2005
| WILLS....OUR LAST WISHES
|WHAT YOU CANNOT TAKE WITH YOU, you leave behind. But to whom? And under what conditions? For waht reasons? To be remembered lovingly? To get even posthumously?
WILLS facinate because they are our last wishes; in effect, they are requests from the grave. They can and often do reveal emotions concealed in life; of love and gratitude, of spite and hate. People have used their requests to redress wrongs committed by them in life, to gain revenge, and, most manipulative, to control events after they're gone but not forgotten: Charles Atlas bequeathed part of his bodybuilding fortune to his son with the stipulation he be baptized a Roman Catholic.
On the other hand, people accomplish in a Will a goal elusive in life.
Wills can be terse. To date, the shortest valid will in the world is the plea of Karl Tausch of Germany, dated January 19, 1967: "ALL TO WIFE".
Wills can be breathlessly long winded. The record in the verbiage category is still held by a charry American housewife, Mrs. Frederica Evelyn Stilwell Cook, written Noven 2,1925. Mrs. Cook was not a material girl, having few possessions, but her voluble good-byes, admonitions, best wishes, and incriminations -- to family, and foe -- filled four volumes, running on for 95,940 words, the length of a James Michener novel. The will was not read at probate.
For largess of spirit, the Will of a New York woman, Mrs. Rober Hayes, scores high marks. Deeply concerned for the security and happiness of her to-be-widowed husband and to-be-motherless stepdaughter from a previous marriage, she requested that the two marry within a week of her funeral. Mrs. Hayes was buried on a Wednesday, and the following Monday the grieving Robert Hayes, age 35, married his 21 year old nonconsanguineous stepdaughter, Anna Mae -- who, conveniently, did not have to change her surname.
Wills can be bizarre. Singer Dorothy Dandridge scribbled: "In case of death, don't remove anything I have on - scarf, gowns or anything. Cremate right away!". And a bequest can be rebuffed: Actress Vivien Leigh willed her azure eyes to an organ bank only to have them rejected because she suffered from tuberculosis.
Pets as Beneficiaries.
It will perhaps come as no surprise that the largest group of Will makers who leave unusual bequests are pet lovers. Dogs and cats are the most frequent legatees, but estates have been left to guppies, cockatoos, marmosets, ferrets and pythons. Research has turned up nothing of a lion's share.
The largest canine bequest on record was that of Eleanor Ritchey, heiress to the Quaker State Refining Corp. She died in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in 1968, Willing her entire fortune of US$4.5 million to her her 150 beloved dogs. The family contested. A court raged for 5 years, the dogs represented by a prestigious Southern law firm. By the time an agreement was reached in September 1973, Eleanor Ritchey's escrow estate had mushroomed to US$14 million and 77 of the dogs had died (natural deaths). This meant the surviving dogs were even richer. As were their lawyers.
In the final settlement, the dogs were awarded US$9 million, each receiving US$123,287.67, to go to food, grooming, and housing. Two million dollars was divided among Eleanor Ritchey's brothers and sisters. The rest of the estate went as fees to the dogs lawyers. But this was not the end of the issue. The Florida court under Circuit Judge Leroy Moe, posed a thorny issue: What if two of the dogs mated and sired a pup? Upon the parents deaths, was the pup entitled to the balance of their canine estate?
The legal answer: yes. To avoid dog trials in perpetuity, it was decided that the animals be tattooed to prove indelibly their identity as inheritors, then segregated by sex to pevent parenting. From theior inheritances, the dogs "contributed" seven thousand dollars each year for their food and housing and another twelve thousand dollars annually for weekly grooming and periodic medical checkups. Upon a dog's death, its estate passed on to the Auburn University in Alabama for research into canine diseases.
Canadian attorney Charles Millaer died in 1928 at the sge of 73, leaving a testament that is a parade of practical jokes, ones revealing how far the living will go for the dead's money. To a judge and a preacher, fiery foes of gambling, Millar bequeathed lucrative shares in a racetrack, which would make the men, if they accepted the gift, automatic members of a horse racing club. They accepted.
To an outspoken gourp of ministers opposed to drinking, Millar left more than fifty thousand dollars worth of shares in a brewery. All but one of the teetotalers took the gift. To three acquaintances whose abiding dislike for one another kept them associating under the same roof, Millar willed his vacation home in Jamaica, which they were to share. And did, with acrimony.
But the most highly publicized aspect of Charles Millar's Will, and the part most bitterly contested, was billed by the press as the "Baby Derby". The wealthy attorney bequesthed a fortune to the Toronto woman who "has given birth to the greatest number of children at the expiration of ten years from my death"
With the courts upholding the document, the derby was one. Within nine months, Toronto hospital maternity wards were filled to capacity and the city's newspapers ran box scores of the women in the lead, highlighting mothers fortunate enough to bear twins and triplets, Milars' relatives -- and Toronto's religious community -- were outraged, claiming that the Will "encouraged immorality" and degraded the "sanctity of birth". But Chalres Millar an attorney as he was a prankster, and the courts repeatedly upheld the document.
Exactly 10 years after Charles Millar's death, on May 30,1938, Judge MacDonell of Toronto's Surrogate Court awarded the cash estate, worth US$568,106. One mother of 10 offspriong was disqualified because not all of her children were fathered by same man; so was another mothr who had 5 of 9 children stillborn. For their efforts, though each woman received a "consolation prize" of US$12,500. The bulk of the money was split equally among 4 fertile mothers, each with 9 children born during the allotted period. On accepting the money, each woman vowed to practice birth control. Charles Millar, a straitlaced, stolid man in life, turned out in death to be one devlish joker.
LAST WILL OF FAMOUS PERSONS:
Plato: d. 348 B.C., Athens
Last Wish: That he would die without a debt.
Aristotle: d. 322 B.C., Chalcis, Greece
Last Wish: That his wife remarry -- though not below her social station.
Virgil: d. 10 B.C., Brindisi, Italy
Last Wish: Burn the Aeneid
William Shakespeare: d. 1616 Stratford-on-Avon
Most Controversial Bequest: That his wife receive his "second best bed".
Henry VIII: d. 1547, London
Last Wish: To be interred beside Jane Seymour, one wife who retained her head.
John Donne: d. 1631, London
Last Act: Draped in a death shroud, he posted for his tombs' effigy.
Peter I, Czar of Russia: d. 1725, Leningrad
Last Wish: That Russia would "fertile the impoverished lands of Europe".
Charles Dickens: d. 1870, Kent, England
Last Wish: That moruners " who attend my funeral wear no scarf, cloak, black bow, long hatband or other such revolting absurdity".
George Bernard Shaw: d. 1950, Hartfordshire, England
Last Wish: He ordered no religious service and that his tombstone not "take the form of a cross or any other instrument of torture or symbol of blood sacrifice."
Benjamin Franklin: d. 1790, Philadelphia
Last Wish: That in a democracy his daughter not engage in "the expensive, vain and useless pastime of wearing jewels."
Napoleon: d. 1821, St. HelenaSouth Atlantic
Last Wish: That his body be cremated after his head was shaved and his hair divided among friends.
Alfred Nobel: d. 1896, San Remo, Italy (the Philantropist of the Nobel Peace Prize)
Last Wish:The capital shall be invested ... the itnerest shall be annually distributed in the form of prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind.
Harry Houdini: d. 1926, Detroit
Last Wish: To be buried beside his dead mother, with her letters to him beneath his head.
Adolf Hitler: d. 1945, Berlin
Last Wish: "The establioshment of a picture gallery in my home town in Linz".
Kahlil Gibran: d. 1931, New York City
Last Wish: That his book royalties go to charities in his home country of Lebanon.
John B. Kelly: d. 1960, Philadelphia (father of Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco)
Last Wish: That the clothing bills of his caugher, Princess Grace, not bankrupt the principality of Monaco.
(Source: Abstrcted from the book: Panati's Extraordinary endings of Practically Everything and Everybody)
|posted by infraternam meam @ 1:17 PM