19 Celebrity Wills That Made History With Their Demands

19 Celebrity Wills That Made History With Their Demands 956x538 blog


  1. William Shakespeare
  2. Leona Helmsley
  3. Charles Dickens
  4. Harry Houdini
  5. Napoleon Bonaparte
  6. Gene Roddenberry
  7. Phillip Seymour Hoffman
  8. John B. Kelly
  9. Eleanor E. Ritchey
  10. Fred Baur
  11. William Randolph Hearst
  12. Dusty Springfield
  13. Tupac Shakur
  14. Mickey Rooney
  15. Jeremy Bentham
  16. George Bernard Shaw
  17. Ed Headrick
  18. Mark Gruenwald
  19. Benjamin Franklin

[Edited transcript]

1. William Shakespeare

Janice:             He left his second best bed to his wife. My question, why not the first one? But his bed, I found that very interesting that he would think of that in his will.

Anthony:            It feels like that’s a poetic message, but I don’t get it.

Janice:             I don’t either. I thought of something funny, “To bed or not to bed,” the to bed. But yeah, it was a little interesting.

2. Leona Helmsley

Janice:             Then we have Leona Helmsley, the hotel owner who earned the nickname “The Queen of Mean.” She left 12 million dollars to her dog who was named Trouble, and she only left 10 million to her brother, and five million to her grandson.

Anthony:            I have something to add to that. I don’t know how the law was back then, but in New York at least, pet trusts can only last, I think … Is it 20 years, at the most? So basically, unless they found a way to spend 12 million dollars on a dog over that relatively short amount of time, the leftover money went to a human at some point.

Janice:             That’s great news. I’m sure the grandson felt really fabulous that the dog got seven million more originally. I don’t know about you, I know my dog is expensive but not 12 million dollars expensive.

3. Charles Dickens

Janice:             He said that at his funeral he forbids mourners from attending if they wore anything he considered “revoltingly absurd,” including black bows; cloaks; or the most hideous articles of clothing of all, scarves. There you have it.

Anthony:            I don’t get that. There must be a story behind that, but I have no idea.

Janice:             There’s got to be, yes. So you couldn’t go to his funeral if you were wearing a scarf. Now, was someone standing outside going, “You have a scarf, you have to leave. To the right, to the left,” kicking people out.

Anthony:            That brings up a good point. When people try to do these interesting or esoteric conditions in their wills, they’ve got to think about how will that be enforced, right?

Janice:             Right.

Anthony:            Some of these things are just like, “This is my wish,” but it might not happen.

Janice:             Yeah, do they have the scarf police standing outside making sure you’re dressed appropriately? That’s a tough one.

4. Harry Houdini

Anthony:            Harry Houdini, the mythical and legendary magician. He left his wife, Bess, a secret code that he claimed would allow her to contact him from beyond the grave. Ooh! And on top of that, he died on Halloween, so that makes it extra spooky. Every year, the wife, Bess, would have a séance to try to use the secret code to connect with him but apparently it didn’t work. Psyche!

Janice:             It didn’t work, make reference.

5. Napoleon Bonaparte

Anthony:            The French leader who was, of course, known for his fighting spirit and sometimes his eccentric qualities. And in keeping with that, he wanted his head to be shaved once he passed away so his friends could share it evenly. I don’t get that. How would shaving his head make it easier to share amongst his friends?

Janice:             Was he shaving and giving the shavings out as parting gifts, maybe?

Anthony:            Like the hair?

Janice:             Maybe. I do know I love a lot of my friends, but I really don’t want their hair.

Anthony:            I’m just a little lost on how shaving and sharing is connected, so moving on.

6. Gene Roddenberry

Anthony:            Nerd alert, nerd test. Remaining on brand as the creator of Star Trek, even in death … Gene Roddenberry is the creator of Star Trek. He requested to be cremated and have his ashes sent into space. That’s really awesome, by the way. He passed away in 1991, and I guess the technology didn’t exist until 1997, when his wish was actually fulfilled. His ashes were sent into space on a satellite orbiting Earth. Good for him, he got his final wish.

Janice:             That’s cool. I mean, who could say they went to space? That’s pretty neat.

Anthony:            I’m thinking of all these and NASA and congressional budgeters thinking, “Oh, we have limited amounts of things we can send into space,” and then this request comes up. But all of them are probably Star Trek geeks like, “No, we’ve got to do this one.”

Janice:             “We’ve got to do it.” But he probably had to pay a good amount, I would imagine, for that.

Anthony:            Oh, no way. He’s a national treasure. He should get that.

Janice:             Well, that’s true. He is one of the ones I didn’t have to Google on this list because he’s the Star Trek creator.

7. Phillip Seymour Hoffman

Janice:             He passed away in 2014. He disliked the idea of his children becoming trust fund kids, so he left all of his money to his girlfriend in his will. And then even stranger, they say, is that he asked for his son to be raised in three different cities: Chicago, San Francisco, and New York. This one, to me, may not seem utterly strange. I just really hope he had a really good plan for all of this. It seems a little complicated.

Anthony:            Yeah. Right now, based on this article … I’m not personally familiar with the case. He gave the money to his girlfriend, with no sort of legal obligation for her to actually spend it on the son, Cooper. Because that’s what a trust is, where somebody else controls the money for the benefit of somebody else. So if there’s no trust … This is like a word pun. He’s trusting his girlfriend to actually do what she said. I don’t know if everyone’s willing to do that.

Janice:             I just hope there was a good plan.

Anthony:            To be clear, she could just take the money and not give a dime to Cooper, and that’s that.

8. John B. Kelly

Janice:             He won three Olympic gold medals for … Actually, it doesn’t say gold, just three Olympic medals for rowing. His daughter was actress Grace Kelly, who later became the Princess of Monaco. But in his will, he said that he didn’t want to bankrupt the principality of … How do you say it, Monaco? … with the bills about her clothing. She must have had some very expensive tastes if he was going to continue to pay for the clothing, after he passed, so they didn’t bankrupt. [crosstalk 00:07:33]

Anthony:            I think it’s worth noting, it doesn’t say that he left money to help avoid that. It’s like he just took a shot at his daughter.

Janice:             That’s very true. She must have some very exquisite taste if that is what he was thinking when he was preparing for the end of life.

Anthony:            But it’s not like he said, “I leave 10 thousand dollars towards her clothing to avoid this situation.” He just says it like he’s just insulting her.

Janice:             They maybe should’ve used some therapy sessions, maybe some family therapy, I think, beforehand.

Anthony:            I’m sure we’re missing something.

9. Eleanor E. Ritchey

Janice:             Eleanor Ritchey, the heiress, she left 4.5 million dollars to her dogs in 1968, which is a lot. However, they had to be distributed throughout 150 dogs.

Anthony:            That’s a lot of dogs.

Janice:             That’s a lot of dogs. I could see having to care for them would probably cost quite a bit of money, as compared to the one earlier where they just had one.

Anthony:            Janice, didn’t I tell you about that case where he had a decedent who had his own habitat for cats? And we had to relocate … I think it was about 120 cats. And I’ll tell you what, we didn’t have 4.5 million dollars to work with.

10.Fred Baur

Janice:             The Pringles founder, he asked for his body to be cremated and stored in a Pringles can. And then amazingly, his family did it. I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard of some very strange things. This one is definitely different.

Anthony:            You would think this would make you, the image of a Pringles can out there with somebody’s ashes, would ruin your appetite.

Janice:             That’s what you’re going to think about when you pick up a Pringles can.

Anthony:            Yeah. Well, actually, this is a testament to how good Pringles are. It just made me want some Pringles.

11. William Randolph Hearst

Anthony:            He was a mogul, and he was uncomfortable with the rumors that he had illegitimate children. So in an attempt to get rid of that rumor, I guess, he said that anyone who could prove that they were his child would still only get one dollar. That’s actually a really good deterrent. I actually like that idea, from a lawyer’s perspective.

Janice:             It is. They’re saying, “Go ahead, figure out. Do you know how much that would cost to prove? You’re going to get a dollar.”

Anthony:            That guy had a smart attorney. That was a good move.

12. Dusty Springfield

Anthony:            She left a request in her will for … god, a lot of pets … for her cat, Nicholas … It was asked for him to be serenaded by her old records in a special indoor tree house, sleeping alongside her old pillow and nightgown. I’m sorry, I’m not a pet guy, so this all seems absurd to me.

Janice:             It is, yeah.

Anthony:            And even be fed imported baby food. Is this normal, Janice?

Janice:             We have pets, probably too many of them. I can tell you that none of them get that sort of treatment, and they are very well-kept.

Anthony:            Oh, wait. There’s one more part. Part of the will was that her cat, Nicholas, was supposed to marry another friend’s cat. How about that? Have you been to a cat wedding, anything like that?

Janice:             I haven’t. I don’t have one on the list, but I probably should look into it. I think that would be fun.

13. Tupac Shakur

Anthony:            I think this one is fake news, but I could be wrong. Tupac Shakur, his song Black Jesus … I’m not familiar with that one … seemed to serve as a will of sorts, and he expressed his desire in the song for his friends to smoke his ashes. That part I can kind of believe, I guess. It seems consistent with his lyrics.

Janice:             Yeah, when you’re singing you can make up whatever, right?

Anthony:            And then sure enough, according to the article, his friends gathered his ashes into a joint and smoked it. I do not believe this, I’m sorry. I just don’t.

Janice:             I would love to see the Snopes fact check on this. Is it actually true, is there proof? What kind of friends would smoke you?

14. Mickey Rooney

Janice:             When he passed, he only had 80 thousand dollars to his name in 2014. Now, when you think about what he’s done, that is a relatively small amount. But he left none of it to his wife and children, and they did not even contest it. My question … This doesn’t talk about it. Where did it go? Although it’s a very small amount, it had to have gone somewhere.

15. Jeremy Bentham

Janice:             So we’ve got Jeremy Bentham. He’s one of the founders of utilitarianism. He asked for his body to be preserved by stuffing it with hay and having it displayed at the University of London. What I find to be very strange is his doctor … I don’t know if it was his doctor. But Dr. Thomas Smith, the executor of his will, obliged by doing it himself.

Anthony:            I was a philosophy major. I am familiar with Jeremy Bentham and utilitarianism, what’s good for the many is what’s good for all. This does not seem like a utilitarian wish.

Janice:             I just want to know how they executor said, “You know what? Guys, it’s cool, I got this. I’ll do it.”

Anthony:            Anyone who is listening online, you should go to our show notes and get the link to this article because there’s a picture of Mr. Bentham stuffed in hay at the museum. I think this is him.

16. George Bernard Shaw

Janice:             So we have George Bernard Shaw, one of the most celebrated playwrights of his generation. When he died, he left money for the funding of a new alphabet, which he wanted to have 40 letters and be phonetic.

17. Ed Headrick

Anthony:            Ed Headrick was the inventor of the Frisbee. Good for you, man.

Janice:             Very cool.

Anthony:            That’s a great contribution to humanity. No, seriously, it’s just a great toy.

Janice:             No, absolutely. I think every kid at one point had a Frisbee.

Anthony:            I have a lot of friends who play Ultimate Frisbee, so they’ll go nuts over this. He not only invented the Frisbee, but he also invented the game Frisbee golf. He considered Frisbee not just a toy, but a religion. Good for you. And this is why he requested to have his ashes mixed into a special set of Frisbees. That wish was fulfilled. So there are some, I guess, ash Frisbees.

Janice:             Again, like the Pringles can, where are these Frisbees and who has them? Are you going to think about when you look at the Frisbee? “Wow, I wonder how this one’s constructed?”

18. Mark Gruenwald

Anthony:            He’s a beloved writer and editor over at Marvel. Again, I’m a comic guy and it doesn’t ring a bell. Anyway, he asked that his ashes be mixed into the printings of the trade paperback versions of his work. What is it with this mixing your ashes trend?

Janice:             I don’t know. I don’t really know. And then of course I’m thinking, “Well, did he? Where’s the book? Who’s got the copy? Does anyone know?” It’s very interesting.

Anthony:            That would be many, many books because the amount of ashes from our human remains is way more than you could jam into one trade paperback.

19. Benjamin Franklin

Anthony:            The Founding Father used his will to ask his daughter, Sarah, to “not engage the expensive, vain, and useless pastime of wearing jewels.” And this had a lot to do with the fact that he left her a portrait frame with 408 jewels that he didn’t want her to remove. But guess what? She removed the jewels anyway.



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