Close this search box.

Opinion: You have an unconventional Will – but will it work?

3 min read

Even after death, the outcome of your will shouldn’t be a mystery to you. That’s why it’s crucial to know how to navigate your estate and plan your will, especially if you have an unconventional will.  

Some strange requests 

Did you know Napoleon Bonaparte apparently wanted to distribute his hair amongst his friends after his death, while ‘60s pop singer Dusty Springfield’s wish was for her dearest furry companion to have a comfortable life after her death. 

And if that sounds strange, consider the will of wealthy American industrialist, Sammuel Bratt. When he died in 1960, Sammuel used his will as an opportunity to get even with his wife who would not allow him to indulge in his favourite habit – smoking. Mrs. Bratt ended up only being able to claim her husband’s estate if she smoked five cigars a day! 

Another case related to the will of wealthy American hotel investor Leona Helmsley who specified that $10 million be left for two of her grandsons, on the condition that they visit their father’s grave at least once a year. To make sure that they did, the will stipulated that the trustees “shall have placed in the Helmsley Mausoleum a register to be signed by each visitor”.  Her other two grandchildren were excluded from the will which was disputed and settled. Her Maltese dog ‘Trouble’ received $12 million in trust and a paid guardian.  

Planning your will  

Perhaps ensuring you get revenge or controlling people from beyond the grave isn’t on your list, but whatever the wish, it’s important to plan your will to make sure your hard-earned wealth or sentimental items are distributed in the way you want.  

Especially when it comes to unconventional requests, you should also consider whether your wishes can be legally carried out when planning your estate. Once upon a time, it was common for a husband to leave his widow a life interest in his estate until she remarried. Such directions today are much more likely to be overturned by a court.  

Avoid the DIY option 

If you are going to insert an unusual request in your will, avoiding the DIY option is more important than ever as there can be a number of pitfalls.  

While a DIY may seem cheaper and more efficient, they are notorious for creating stress and costs, especially for the loved ones left behind, because they are extremely basic and often not comprehensive enough to be clear. They can also be prone to errors, with unintended consequences. For example, after you die if you might want to be cremated and your ashes scattered at a particular location by a particular person. Not being specific enough may mean your remains are dealt with in a completely different way.  

The DIY will can also result in costly litigation if it’s unfair to a significant beneficiary or fails to properly benefit the intended beneficiaries the way the person making the will expected. 

Unfortunately, most common DIY will legal cases arise as a result of the construction of the will, which affects the entitlements of the beneficiaries, and executor appointments especially when there is some weird and wacky request.  

An understandable gap in the knowledge of the will maker of legal concepts applicable to wills and estate administration may also cause a will to fail. Incorrect execution where the Will is not properly signed or finalised which means it’s not legally effective, is also a big deal when it comes to the success or failure of DIY wills.  

Planning ahead 

Whether it’s unusual or not, planning ahead is the key to a successful, documented will.  

A will ideally should be a part of an estate plan, which includes a full review of your total wealth – involving instructions on superannuation assets, advanced health care directives, Powers of Attorney, interests in family trusts and business interests – not just the personal assets itemised in the will itself. 

Estate planning isn’t something you should just keep in mind for your post-mortem wishes either. In the event you are incapacitated and unable to handle your personal and financial affairs an estate plan ensures there is someone in your corner protecting and ensuring your wishes are carried out, even if by unfortunate circumstances, you end up in a coma.  

While most wills today are less likely to hold such instructions they’re usually still far from ordinary. It’s important to ensure that your intent

+ posts

Michael Crowe is National Manager for Estate Planning, Trustee and Wealth Services at Equity Trustees. He is experienced in matters involving complex assets structures, superannuation, and challenging family dynamics. Michael is passionate about estate planning and helping people protect their wealth and their legacy.


You Might also Like

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Stories

Next Up