November 11, 2013

As the estates bar knows all too well, a last will and testament can be the final chance for a person to communicate his or her thoughts, wishes and desires to the world.  It is no surprise then that a will often reflects the idiosyncrasies of its author, whether in form or in content.

Some of history’s most famous characters are no exception.  In his 1869 will, Charles Dickens famously demanded that mourners “who attend my funeral wear no scarf, cloak, black bow, long hatband, or other such revolting absurdity.”  When Benjamin Franklin bequeathed a portrait of King Louis XVI in a frame encrusted with 408 diamonds to his daughter, he wished that “she would not form any of those diamonds into ornaments, either for herself or daughters, and thereby introduce or countenance the expensive, vain and useless pastime of wearing jewels in this country.”[1]  And John B. Kelly, best known as the father of the actress Grace Kelly, left to his son in his amusing will “all my personal belongings, such as trophies, rings, jewelry, watches, clothing and athletic equipment, except the ties, shirts, sweaters and socks, as it seems unnecessary to give him something of which he has already taken possession.”[2]

While a will can often reflect the humour of its drafter, a will can also reflect the testator’s strict moral views of the world.  In trying to control the actions of the persons left behind, the testator will often issue directives that cause confusion or resentment by the beneficiaries.  In those cases, the courts are often called upon to interpret or strike out the difficult will provision.


[1] Lawrence M. Friedman, A History of American Law: Third Edition (Simon and Schuster: 2005) at 182

[2] Robert S. Menchin, Where There’s a Will: A Collection of Wills.

Read the full paper here: Unusual Will Clauses & Oddball Estate Cases by JdV and Gillian Fournie