Will your unconventional Will work?

Jun 24, 2023
Whether it’s unusual or not, planning ahead is the key to a successful, documented will. Source: Getty

The outcome of your will shouldn’t be a mystery to you, even after death. That’s why it’s crucial to know how to navigate your estate and plan your will even (and especially) if you have unconventional wishes. 

Strange requests

Whether your intention after death is to distribute your hair among your friends (as Napoleon Bonaparte did) or your dearest furry companion has a comfortable life after your death (like ‘60s pop singer Dusty Springfield), you are not alone.

If you’re particularly stubborn and know how to bear a grudge you might consider the will of wealthy American industrialist, Sammuel Bratt. At his death 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 was then faced with the fact that she could only claim her husband’s estate if she were to smoke five cigars a day!

Starting your will 

Perhaps ensuring that you get revenge from beyond the grave isn’t on your agenda post-mortem, 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 wish. 

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 but disputed – and settled. Her Maltese dog ‘Trouble’ got $12 million in trust and a paid guardian.

Especially when it comes to unconventional requests, when planning your estate, you should also consider whether your wishes can be legally carried out. 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. 

Beware 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 will seem like an efficient and cost-effective option, 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 are 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 option 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. 

It 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 that 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 intentions are legally fool-proof and ask for professional help to set the seal on your Will. 

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