Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The last will and testament is most people's final gesture in this world – and given that they're not going to be around when its contents are revealed some people use it to make the strangest requests. Here is our top ten list of the craziest bequests.

10. To boldly go..

Gene Roddenberry, creator of the Star Trek television series (motto: To boldly go where no man has gone before), appropriately had his ashes blasted into space on a satellite and distributed as it orbited the earth.

The memorial spaceflight, in 1997, quickly set a trend - especially among fellow Trekkies. James Doohan, who played chief engineer Scottie on the Starship Enterprise was also projected into orbit as did astronaut Gordon Cooper. Bit tough on the families if they want to leave flowers.

9. Doggone

German Countess Carlotta Liebenstein left a staggering fortune of 139 million German marks (about £43 million) to her beloved pet dog Gunther III when she died in 1991. The hound and his offspring - imaginatively named Gunther IV - were able to live in the lap of luxury in a mansion with a personal maid, chauffeur and customized pool.

This isn't the only pampered pooch to have benefited from a bequest. New York hotel magnate Leona Helmsley, dubbed the "Queen of Mean" during a 1989 trial for tax evasion, left $12 million (£6 million) of her estimated $8 billion estate for the upkeep of her Maltese terrier Trouble. Two of her four grandchildren meanwhile got nothing.

Unsurprisingly, the request by Helmsley, famous for her quip that "only the little people pay taxes," sparked nothing but trouble. After the will was contested, the pooch was stripped of $10 million by a Manhattan judge leaving the poor thing with a paltry $2 million. It's a dog's life.

8. The Great Stork Derby

Eccentric lawyer Charles Vance Millar was well known in Toronto, Canada, for his love of practical jokes and he saved the best until last.

He bequeathed a large sum from his significant estate to the woman in Toronto who could produce the most children in the ten year period after his death. The resulting contest, after his death in 1926, became known as the Great Stork Derby. The four winning mothers, Annie Katherine Smith, Kathleen Ellen Nagle, Lucy Alice Timleck and Isabel Mary Maclean, each received C$125,000 for their nine children.

The pranks didn't end there. Millar's will also left shares in racetracks and breweries to anti-gambling and temperance supporters. Three men who were known to despise each other were granted joint lifetime tenancy in Millar's Jamaican holiday home.

7. Death wish

Revenge is sweet - even from beyond the grave. American housewife Mary Kuhery is reported to have left her husband $2 as long as he promised to spend at least half of it on a rope with which to hang himself.

In 1960 Samuel Bratt was slightly less vengeful. However, he still grasped the opportunity to get even with his wife who had never allowed him to smoke. He left her £330,000, a huge sum back then, provided that she smoke five cigars a day.

6. No women allowed

When misogynist American lawyer T.M. Zink died in 1930 he left $50,000 in trust for 75 years by which time he hoped that it would have grown to $3 million. He decreed that the fund should then be used to found the Zink Womanless Library. The words "No women admitted" were to mark each entrance and no books, works of art, or decorations by women were to be permitted. His family challenged the will and won.

5. Alas poor Yorick

Juan Potoachi gave 200,000 pesos to the Teatro Dramatico in Buenos Aires in 1955, on condition that his skull be preserved and used as Yorick in Hamlet. William Shakespeare himself was less generous. The bard left most of his estate to his elder daughter Susannah Hall while his wife only received his "second best bed".

4. Fangs very much

Harold West was so worried that he would become a vampire after his death, in 1972, that he left strict instructions that his doctor "drive a steel stake through my heart to make sure that I am properly dead". That should do it

3. Live forever

Predeceased by his wife and two daughters, John Bowman, from Vermont, America, was convinced that after his death, in 1891, the family would be reincarnated. In anticipation, he left a trust fund for the maintenance of his 21-room mansion, including a demand that servants prepare dinner nightly in case the Bowmans were hungry when they returned. The money ran out in 1950.

2. Monkey business

An 83- year-old Danish widow left the equivalent of half a million Danish crowns (about £40,000) to six chimpanzees - Jimmy, Trunte, Fifi, Trine, Grinni and Gigi - who lived at the Copenhagen Zoo. Senior Deputy Judge Christian Notlevsen, who read out the testament in front of their cage, said the heirs had behaved better than many people he had seen in court during readings of wills.

1. Poetic licence

The last wish of Donal Russell, from Springfield in the US state of Oregon, was to have his body skinned, his hide tanned like leather and then used to bind books of self-penned poetry. The 62-year old wordsmith stated that his body "be skinned from the head down and tanned for the purpose of face binding volumes of my verse."

The squeamish funeral directors refused, so his widow asked the courts to help her honour his wishes. The request was turned down because it violated laws about what could be done to human remains. How prosaic.

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