Home Scholarly articles The wild last wills of the rich and famous

The wild last wills of the rich and famous

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Ben Franklin might have been right when he said “nothing can be said for sure except death and taxes,” but we hate preparing for both.

Many people put off writing their last wills and wills, perhaps to avoid facing their own mortality. But when they do, their decisions about the distribution of their property can reveal a lot. Consider the original, quirky, and downright weird information tucked away in the farewell documents of famous people:

As a child you learned, “Listen to my children and you will hear about Paul Revere’s nighttime ride. He was a true Patriot – and a damn good goldsmith too. What made him rich in revolutionary Boston.

But Paul had an ox with a parent. He left his children and grandchildren $ 500 each – a big change in 1818 – with one exception: a grandson only received $ 1. Imagine the family discussion when this will was read! Historians do not know why the grandson fell out of favor.


Harriet Beecher Stowe has written an inflammatory slavery novel called “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”. Abraham Lincoln told him, “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that caused this great war.

Her literary career was so successful that upon her death in 1896 she left her son with valuable railroad stocks and a Florida orange grove.

Daniel Webster was a Flint Granite Stater who served as Senator and Secretary of State, and who fictitiously defeated Satan in “The Devil and Daniel Webster”. But he couldn’t have died better.

When his time came in 1852, his will disposed of all his possessions, including his fishing gear and a gold snuffbox decorated with the effigy of George Washington. A lucky grandson got these gifts. (And what young boy wouldn’t want a gold snuffbox?)

JP Morgan was the richest man in America in his day. We’re talking about Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett, wealthy Bill Gates. During the panic of 1907, Morgan personally saved the US government from bankruptcy. That’s how rich he was.

When he died six years later, his handwritten will left “One Million Dollars” (emphasis added) to his wife. It would be close to $ 40 million today. Widow Morgan did not do without.

WC Fields called the man in the shiny nightgown death. He might have been a brilliant comedian, but he was also deeply paranoid, often imagining that people wanted him. And he changed his will several times on a whim.

Adolf Hitler was a horrible human being. It is therefore not surprising that his last will contains horrific diatribes.

Dictated in a Berlin bunker in the last hours of his life, with Russian soldiers literally outside the door, he left his art collection at “a gallery in my hometown of Linz on the Danube” (which did never created) and bequeathed “objects of sentimental value or necessary to maintain a simple and modest life” to a handful of relatives and “faithful collaborators” of his entourage. The rest was to be given to the Nazi Party. But since there had been no party after his suicide, the will was moot.

Then there was his last will, in which he insisted that WWII was not his fault. Nothing was ever his fault (his anyway). “It is wrong that I or anyone else in Germany wanted war in 1939.” He was a liar and a madman until the end.

Finally, history provides an object lesson. Abraham Lincoln died without a will. Remember what he did for a living before the presidency? He was a lawyer. That’s right; the man famous for writing the Gettysburg speech forgot to write a will for himself, thus proving the old adage, “Shoemaker’s children need shoes.”

This caused enormous problems for his emotionally tormented widow, Mary Lincoln. The settlement of the estate was a long, bitter and costly affair that played out in the newspapers.

So do your loved ones a huge favor. If you don’t have a will, prepare one. Your loved ones will be happy to hear that the golden snuffbox will remain in the family.

The sacred cow! The story is written by novelist, former television journalist and history buff, J. Mark Powell. Do you have a historical mystery to solve? A forgotten moment to remember? Send it to [email protected]


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