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With Include a Charity Week coming up, we thought it would be fun to highlight some of the funny bequests people have left in their wills. From locks of hair to a playwright’s second-best bed, it’s amazing what people leave behind.

Weird and wonderful gifts in wills

In Australia, we’re not so great at writing wills. Nearly 50 per cent of Australians have a will, but the rest shuffle off their mortal coil and leave their loved ones with no instructions for what should happen to their belongings.

Those that do write wills, however, usually leave their worldly goods to their loved ones. A small number (7.4 per cent) also include a gift to charity.

And some people leave rather intriguing bequests. As it’s Include a Charity Week, here’s a roundup of 10 of the most unusual gifts in wills that we’ve come across.

Random heirs

Luis Carlos de Noronha Cabral da Camara, a Portuguese aristocrat, left his considerable fortune to 70 strangers he randomly chose out of the Lisbon phone directory. When told, those people thought it was a joke!

The Bard’s second-best bed

Playwright William Shakespeare left the bulk of his estate to his daughter, Susannah, and a silver-gilt bowl and £100 to his other daughter Judith. Meanwhile, he left his wife Anne Hathaway his ‘second-best bed’ along with the furniture. A snub from the Bard over an unhappy marriage? Or a reminder of a great passion?

A birthday gift?

When writer Robert Louis Stevenson died in 1894, his will included an unusual legacy. He noted that his friend, Annie H., had often complained that she didn’t get a proper birthday celebration as she was born on Christmas Day. In his will, the writer of Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde left Annie his birthday: 13 November.

Coming up roses

When comedian Jack Benny died in 1974, his will stipulated that a single red rose be delivered to his wife, Mary Livingstone Benny from the day of his death until she passed away. It was a way to demonstrate ‘his undying love.’ A florist duly delivered a red rose every day until Mary died in 1983.

What’s in the kitty? Or going to the dogs…

Many people have left gifts in their wills for their beloved pets. Queen frontman Freddie Mercury’s common-law wife Mary Austin (and the six cats who outlived him) inherited half of his £75 million estate.

Hotelier Leona Helmsley left more than US $12 million to her Maltese, Trouble. A judge later reduced Trouble’s portion to US $2 million.

Under Australian law, however, pets are not capable of inheriting money or property, and you cannot leave them a gift of money in your will. Instead, you can leave a pet and bequest to a friend/relative with a non-binding request that they look after your pet. You can also investigate creating a trust for your pet for its future care.

Gift to literature

Miles Franklin was an Australian novelist and writer who wanted to see Australian literature flourish. In her will, the My Brilliant Career writer stipulated that a portion of her estate (£8,922) should go to establish an annual literary award, the Miles Franklin Award. As a bequest now managed by The Trust Company (part of Perpetual), the gift has grown handsomely. Today, the annual winner of the prize gets a cool $60,000.

Party on

Roger Brown, an Englishman who died aged 67, left part of his estate to seven of his best friends. Roger instructed them to use the money for a lad’s weekend somewhere in Europe. And they did.

Splitting heirs

In his will, Napoleon Bonaparte instructed that his head be shaved and his hair distributed among his friends.

Comic timing

Mark Gruenwald, executive editor of Marvel Comics Captain America and Iron Man was cremated. His will stipulated that his ashes should be mixed into the ink used to print the first paperback anthology of Squadron Supreme, another of his famous creations. And they were!

Interested in leaving a gift in your will to your favourite cause? Check out the Include a Charity checklist for how to go about it. https://www.includeacharity.com.au/make-a-will/things-to-consider/