17 November 2018

Seven of the strangest inheritance stories

20 min read



From donating thousands to Jesus Christ to giving friends a holiday, here are some of our favourite ways in which loved ones have had the last laugh.

Furniture, cash, an antique tea set that looks valuable but is only worth £20 – most inheritances are pretty stock standard. If we’re really lucky we might get a house. But for some people, leaving a bequest isn’t about distributing wealth fairly – it’s a chance to leave a mark on the world and cause a little bit of mischief along the way.

A boozy weekend

We all hope that our nearest and dearest will raise a glass to us when we’re gone – but Roger Brown put measures in place to be sure of it. When the retired engineer died from cancer in 2013, he left behind a secret bequest of £3,500 to a group of friends who’d known each other for more than 40 years – the proviso being that they spend the money on a European holiday. “We would like to formally apologise to Roger’s two sons, Sam and Jack, for taking away some of their inheritance,” one of the friends told the South Wales Evening Post after the group enjoyed a weekend in Berlin. “We spent most of it on beer; the rest we wasted.”

To a perfect stranger – £200,000

If you’re a childless only child like the late Shirley Diane Street of Kent, you might consider leaving your hard-earned cash to a distant relative you’ve never met. In 2015, English retiree John Hall found out that he was the heir to a mysterious widow he’d never even heard of. When Shirley’s estate contacted him out of the blue, Hall discovered he was inheriting the tidy sum of £200,000.

The price of half a pound of pork sausages

Kenneth Gibson must have had dinner on his mind when he penned his last will and testament in 1999. The 75-year-old Lincolnshire retiree stipulated that his stepdaughter must be given the “price of half a pound of pork sausages” after her late mother, Ann Cox, didn’t pay her for them. He died two months later.

A gift to the government

In 1928, an anonymous donor left £500,000 to the British government to help with the national debt. It’s stuck in legal limbo because of an interesting stipulation made by the donor: the money can only be used to pay off the entire debt. But the UK’s bill now stands at a whopping £1.2tn – more than 3,000 times the value of the bequest, which is now worth £350 million. The current fund managers at Barclays are seeking permission to convert the bequest into charitable grants or hand it to the Treasury, but as yet they’ve had no luck.

One million flowering bulbs

Some people request their ashes to be scattered at their favourite holiday spot – but self-made millionaire Keith Owen went one step further and donated his entire fortune to it. When the 69-year-old was given just a few weeks to live, he decided to give £2.3 million to his favourite place in the world: Sidmouth in Devon. The bequest stipulated that one million flowering bulbs were to be planted, and that the interest should be used on maintenance. According to the BBC, 153,000 snowdrops, daffodils and crocus bulbs worth £166,000 have already been planted across 50 sites.

A nest egg for Jesus Christ

You probably won’t be in your family’s good books if you follow in Norman Earnest Digweed’s footsteps. In 1968, the Hampshire resident directed that his estate of £26,000 be placed in a trust for none other than Jesus Christ. The will stipulated that if Jesus didn’t claim it within 80 years, it was to be passed back to the Crown. The lawyer handling the case told a Chicago newspaper: “The main stumbling block is the difficulty in proving the Lord Jesus Christ. Who can tell who is the real Jesus Christ?” The jury’s still out on this one.

A strand of hair

Here’s a sure-fire way to make sure your friends and family always carry a piece of you with them. Be like Napoleon Bonaparte and divide and share your hair among your friends after your death. You could either shave your head like Bonaparte, or go for a snip. Such is the power of the last will and testament that his wishes were duly carried out.

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