Weird Wills: Having the last laugh

Writing a will is an important task and one that shouldn’t be neglected. Obviously a will is there to distribute your estate to the people you want to inherit it and to appoint people you trust to make sure your wishes are carried out, but it’s also an opportunity to pass on items of sentiment or make small gestures to the people who mean the most to you. That said, sometimes wills can get downright bizarre. Here’s a look at some odd bequests drawn both from our own personal experience and famous people’s well-known wishes.

  1. “Item I gyve unto my wief my second best bed…” – William Shakespeare.

Perhaps the most famous example of an odd bequest was Shakespeare’s gift of his ‘second best bed’ to Anne Hathaway, his wife of 34 years. Though today this may look like a snub it was actually common to specifically gift a bed in a will in the 1600 as they were a representation of wealth. As a wife you’d at least expect the best one though!

  1. A gift of the left sock of every pair of socks that the testator (person making the will) owned at death. – Anonymous

Don’t worry, this wasn’t done out of spite! We’re sure that there was an in-joke here between the brothers involved.

  1. A gift of the testator’s own skull – Andre Tchaíkowsky.

Polish composer Tchaíkowsky died in 1982. In his will he made a gift of his skull to the Royal Shakespeare Company with the wish that it was one day used as the skull of Yorick in Hamlet. As desired, his skull was eventually used on stage in 2008 by David Tennant portraying Hamlet.

  1. A matching diamond necklace and earring set made from an unusual material – Anonymous

At first glance this doesn’t look too unusual. However, the jewellery in question was actually made from the ashes of the testator’s parents. She herself had no wishes to have her own ashes converted into jewellery to continue this legacy.

  1. A secret code to contact the testator after death – Harry Houdini

Harry Houdini, the famous escape artist, was known to be obsessed with spiritualism and contacting the dead, though he dedicated a part of his career to uncovering fraud mediums. To that end, in his will he left his wife a 10-digit code and instructions to hold a séance on every anniversary of his death. He promised that he would try to contact her from beyond the grave and she would know it was him from the secret code.

  1. £25,000 to use on an all-inclusive skiing holiday – Anonymous

A testator left a sum of £25,000 to her 3 closest friends with instructions that they use this to go on the skiing holiday they had always talked about but never got around to booking.  She also requested that they took her ashes with them.

Writing a will isn’t all doom and gloom, but before making any odd requests make sure you speak to a professional so you can be sure that the request you’re making is actually possible. It’s also important that you make sure the request isn’t likely to cause any friction or lead to your will being contested. We aren’t sure that you would get away with leaving your spouse only your second-best bed today!

Siobhan Rattigan-Smith

After graduating from the University of Lincoln with a 2:1 in Law in 2014 Siobhan has dedicated herself to will writing as the head of the Society’s technical team. Siobhan is also the lead tutor for The College of Will Writing, teaching a handful of courses including our SWWEPP 4-day introductory course.

One comment

  • Andrew Upton

    24th December 2021 at 3:30 pm

    Brilliant Siobhan!
    Regarding Shakespeare I believe that the best bed was usually in a house for guests in those days. When Shakespeare left his wife his second best bed he meant their marital bed which I’m guessing to her would be more special.
    It’s in my grey cells about that somewhere – possibly when we toured their house!!


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