Trivia Time: Little-Known Facts About Estate Planning

Posted November 9, 2012 in Estate Planning Wills and Probate by

The oldest known will was found in an Egyptian tomb. (Dorling Kindersley RF/Thinkstock)

Historically, a “will” was used to distribute of real estate after one’s death and a “testament” was used to dispose of personal property. Today those instructions are combined into a single document, called a “last will and testament.”

British Scientist James Smithson make a bequest in 1829 in his last will and testament, instructing: “I then bequeath the whole of my property… to the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an Establishment for the increase & diffusion of knowledge among men.” Curiously, Smithson had never visited the United States.

The record for the longest will ever probated is held by an English woman, Frederica Evelyn Stilwell Cook. Although her estate was only valued at about $100,000, her last will and testament ran 1066 pages and 95,940 words.

In contrast, the shortest known wills are each three words long. Indian Bimla Rishi’s will read “all to son” and German Karl Tausch’s read “all to wife.”

A recent study estimates that 11 percent of Britons have included their Internet passwords in their last will and testament.

In Alberta, Canada, your last will and testament is automatically invalidated when you get married, but it remains valid when you get divorced.

Famous Americans who died without a valid will include Sonny Bono, Kurt Cobain, John Denver, Chris Farley, Howard Hughes and Martin Luther King, Jr.

In his last will and testament, the late actor and comedian Del Close requested that his skull go to Chicago’s Goodman Theatre so he could “play” Yorick in Hamlet after his death. The executor of Close’s estate couldn’t find anyone willing to remove his head from the body, so he was eventually cremated intact. His executor then gave the Goodman another skull (purchased from a local science supply store), which has been used in several plays.

The “will of Uah” is the oldest-known will in existence. It was found in a tomb in Egypt and dates to 2548 B.C. In it, Uah leaves all of his property to his wife Teta.

Historians have also found a power of attorney from Mesopotamia that dates to 561 B.C. In it, a man authorizes his brother to conduct business on his behalf.

Although some estate planning tools have been used for thousands of years, others are much more recent. In September 1976, California became the first state to legalize the use of the living will, which gives people control over their end-of-life medical treatment.


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