BEQUESTS – the bold, the bizarre and the brilliant!

October 30, 2023

The top 5 strangest bequests ever made!


Ranging from Shakespeare to the comedian Jack Benny, this article lists some of the extraordinary and unusual ways that famous people of the past have approached the making of their Wills. Read on to find out some of the fun, crazy and sometimes awkward ways these people have chosen to be remembered by their loved ones!


  1. William Shakespeare

Made on the 25th March 1616 Shakespeare’s last Will and testament was showered with the names of many of the significant people in his life – including his family, friends and colleagues. However, Shakespeare fails to mention his wife, Anne Hathaway, until the very end of his Will where he strangely only bequeaths her his ‘second best bed with furniture’. It seems that he left the bulk of his estate to his two daughters and his money and clothes to sister and her sons – bizarre!


  1. Jeremy Bentham

Perhaps one of the strangest bequeaths of all time was made by ‘father of utilitarianism’, Jeremy Bentham, who died on the 6th June 183. In his last Will and testament, he stated that he was to leave the largest sum of his estate to University College London. However, he promised to do this on one very strange condition… Bentham requested that his body not only be preserved but be placed on display inside the College itself. However, the mummification went horribly wrong and Bentham’s head became detached from his body in the process, which meant it had to be replaced with a wax head. This can still be seen today, as well as Bentham’s ‘real head’, which was subsequently placed at the foot of body in order to keep in line with his last wishes. (It has also been rumoured that on occasion, university students have even stolen Bentham’s head and held it ransom from the professors at the college!).


  1. Napoleon

Napoleon’s Will, made on the 15th April 1821, also held instructions for some form of preservation. However, rather than asking for his body to be preserved like Bentham, Napoleon chose to include a request in his Will that asked for his hair to be kept and made into bracelets for his family. He interestingly even specified that these bracelets should be made with ‘gold clasps’ and that a larger bracelet should be made for his son!


  1. Jack Benny

Perhaps one of the most wonderful bequests belongs to comedian Jack Benny, who died on the 26th December 1974. After giving his wife, Mary Livingstone, a rose every year he made arrangements in his Will for a single rose to be delivered to their home every day after his death – which is exactly what happened. Mary touchingly received a rose from her late husband every day up until the end of her own life, making this one of the sweetest and heartfelt bequests to date.


  1. Leona Helmsley

Billionaire hotelier Leona Helmsley, who passed away on the 20th August 2007, left rather bizarre instructions for the spending of her $5bn-8bn fortune. Whilst originally stating that the money should be spent caring for dog and the needs of the poor – a further revision of her Will instructed that in the entirety of her fortune was to be solely left to the care of dogs. With two of her grandchildren already excluded from her Will, this meant that her nine-year-old Maltese was to receive $15 million. However, perhaps even more strangely the other two grandchildren that were indeed mentioned in her Will were only to receive $10m inheritance on the condition that they regularly visited their father’s grave!