When there’s a Will, there’s a way


The common phrase, ‘When there’s a Will, there’s a way’, could not be more true in a recent article published by The Guardian.

A Will is a legal document used to dispose of your estate after you’ve passed away, but it’s not unusual for a Will to be used as an opportunity to send a message from beyond the grave, either by punishing potential heirs with nothing or perhaps by giving away something fun or strange to remember them by.

We often hear of celebrities in the spotlight using their Wills to leave to their pets. Audiences and fans were left outraged when billionaire hotelier, Leona Helmsley, left instructions for her $4bn (£2.5bn) fortune to be spent caring for dogs, after allegedly re-writing an earlier draft that left her estate to the poor. Due to the provisions of her Will being publicised, Leona’s dog, Trouble, was forced to go into hiding amid death and kidnap threats!

Other publicly known individuals have used their Wills to make jokes and other funny comments to those they leave behind. German poet, Heinrich ‘Henry’ Heine, left his estate to his wife, Matilda, on the condition that she remarry, so that “there will be at least one man to regret my death”. Of course, this was initially intended as a lasting joke to poor Matilda, but legal experts warn that this joke could backfire. “If Henry made no other provision in his will, Matilda could, today, get rid of the condition by disclaiming Henry’s gift. Because Henry left no children Matilda would, under a law in force since October last year, inherit Henry’s whole estate, absolutely and unconditionally.”

A number of examples were used in the article to demonstrate just how easy it is to make provisions that outline strange requests, but these are not always used with cruel intentions. US comedian, Jack Benny, requested in his Will that his delivery of a long-stemmed red rose to his wife every day continues after his death and for the rest of her life. This wish was upheld and Mary Livingstone, Jack’s Berry’s widow, went on to write many articles about the provision and commented ”I learned Jack actually had included a provision for the flowers in his will. One red rose to be delivered to me every day for the rest of my life.”. This story followed Mary for a number of years and encouraged others to create the same provisions.

In conclusion, while it might seem entertaining to include jokes in a will, it’s never without risk. As tempting as it may be to ‘have the last laugh’, it might be worth proceeding with caution and to take your Will seriously. Legal experts say “if you absolutely insist on a joke, or an odd request, check to see whether this could invalidate the Will and avoid doing it if you can. For more outlandish requests, it may be better to use the non-legally binding Letter of Wishes.”

Whatever the requests you wish to make in your Will, at Barker Gotelee we can help ensure that these provisions are legally binding and valid.  Please contact us to arrange an initial consultation.