A 19th century Philadelphia stagehand bequeathed his head to the local company "to represent the skull of Yorick in the play Hamlet.'" With an exultant flourish, a Denver printer willed five shares of his brewery stock to the president of the Colorado Woman's Christian Temperance Union. German Poet Heinrich Heine left everything to his wife on the specific condition that she remarry, "because then there will be at least one man to regret my death."
Suppressed desires, hidden hates, secret spites, conjugal conspiracies¡ªall may be and have been expressed in a man's final accounting: his will. Although Author Menchin, a Wall Street financial writer and dabbler in testacy, punningly complains that will writing is "a dying art," this collection of "wills, odd and curious," leaves little doubt that in any era, where there's a will there's a way to get even.
Wills have been written on everything from the walls of Egyptian tombs to the back of a bridge score card. A Canadian farmer, pinned fatally under a tractor, scratched his last testament on its fender (which now duly reposes among the local archives); a dying California oldster scrawled his on the petticoat of an obliging nurse.
An American named Adolph J. Heimbeck, who died in 1958, cut off his two sisters because "they revere Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the taxes caused by him more than equalled their share." A 73-year-old bachelor attorney, Charles Millar, capriciously started what Canadians still refer to as the "Baby Derby" by bequeathing $568,106 "to the Mother who [in the ten years after his death] has given birth in Toronto to the greatest number of children." The ensuing fertility race shocked the nation, but on May 30, 1938, the prize was duly divided among four winners who had tied with nine offspring each. William Shakespeare pointedly left his wife "my second best bed," thereby raising questions forevermore about his marital life.
Menchin's work is highly anecdotal and not to be confused with literature. But it can make for a summer afternoon's light reading¡ªand perhaps dark plotting. For as Morris Ernst remarks in his foreword, the testator's view is: "Who can hurt me in the grave?"
Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,870440,00.html#ixzz1IySSnCaH