Bizarre stories of wills that left the world in a state of shock and bewilderment
Dusty Springfield was an English pop singer, who peaked during the swinging sixties. A member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Dusty had six top 20 singles on the US Billboard Hot 100, including ‘Son of a preacher man’.
As one of the most successful British female singers of all time, Dusty acquired a fortune throughout her nearly 40-year career. However, when she died of breast cancer in 1999, she left her fortune to her 13-year-old cat Nicholas.8
After Dusty’s death, Nicholas was bequeathed to her friend Lee, whom she instructed to maintain the cat’s opulent lifestyle. This lifestyle included:
In the months leading to her death, she made the ‘appropriate’ arrangements for Nicholas. Dusty Springfield never married or had children and she was a lifelong animal activist and cat lover.
Nina Wang was once Asia’s richest woman. But her rise to wealth wasn’t a smooth one and her legacy is tainted by mystery, legal battles and scandal.
In 1990, Nina’s husband and Hong Kong chemical magnate, Teddy Wang, was kidnapped, mysteriously disappeared and was declared legally dead in 1999. Once declared dead, Nina and Teddy’s father, Wang Din-shin, fought in court over Teddy’s fortune and control of the multibillion-dollar company, Chinachem.
The court sifted through three wills, declaring the most recent a forgery. In 2004, the High Court ruled in Din-shin’s favour. The following year, Nina Wang was charged with will forgery and freed on bail. However, later that year, the Court of Final Appeal overturned the original ruling and Nina Wang regained Teddy’s fortune and Chinachem.9
When Nina Wang died in 2007, her estate also became shrouded in controversy when her lover, Peter Chan, forged her will. Chan attempted to claim Wang’s entire fortune, even though she left him USD $387 million. The greedy Chan was sentenced to 12 years in prison and Nina Wang’s enormous fortune went to charity.
Imagine being flat broke and living in a cave with your brother, only to find out your maternal grandmother left you a multibillion-dollar inheritance. Well, that’s what happened to German brothers, Geza and Zsolt Peladi in 2009.
The siblings were living in a cave near Budapest, Hungary, when charity workers tracked them down after contact from lawyers handling the estate of the deceased. The unnamed woman from Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany, left the equivalent of USD $4.5 billion to the brothers and one sister – who lives in the United States.11 Under German law, direct relatives are entitled to a share of any estate – and as the woman had no surviving next of kin, her grandchildren inherited the money.
Geza, 43, stated on a local television programme that they knew their mother came from a wealthy family, but they lost contact with her after she abandoned them in their early years.10 The Peladi brothers hoped the money would allow them to find partners and live a normal life.
When Canadian investment banker John Keith Owen died in 2007, he had no close relatives except a brother to inherit his USD $4 million estate. The strange beneficiary? The small seaside resort town of Sidmouth, 163 miles south-west of London, England.
Owen was born near Sidmouth in Devon. However, he became a Canadian citizen and set up life in Ottawa, Canada, after 20 years in the Royal Air Force (RAF). But he never forgot the town; in fact, it’s where his mother lived, and frequently holidayed.
In 2007, when he was diagnosed with lung cancer, Owen contacted the Sid Vale conservation group, informing the members that he wanted his legacy to keep the town beautiful.
The Sid Vale Association receives around the equivalent of USD $258,000 per year via the Keith Owen Fund, which is spent on projects and distributed to local organisations.11 Owen described Sidmouth as a place that represents how England used to be. This sense of nostalgia is thought to be the reason behind his unusual bequest.
Wealthy Australian socialite, Valmai Roche, died in 2009, aged 81. Roche left behind a USD $2.4 million estate and some parting words – in her will – for her daughters, calling them traitors.
Roche left her ex-husband and three daughters Deborah Ann, Fiona and Shauna 30 pieces of silver each – as a reference to Judas (30 pieces of silver equates to $1.50).12 The bulk of her estate was bequeathed to the Knights of the Southern Cross – a catholic charity for men. So, why the ill will? Roche believed that her daughters had conspired in the death of her mother, Dorothy Haber, who died in a nursing home. The daughters denied her claims.
In Adelaide’s supreme court, the three daughters argued that their mother was delusional and as her next of kin, entitled to inherit her estate. In 2012, the supreme court ruled in their favour and they regained control of their mother’s $2.4 million estate.
When American composer McNair Ilgenfritz died in 1953, his last will and testament revealed an unfulfilled goal that eluded him in life. Ilgenfritz bequeathed USD $150,000 to the Metropolitan Opera in New York, on the provision they perform one of his two unpublished operas.13
Upon hearing the unusual request, the Metropolitan Opera agreed, as one of the operas only contained two characters and would be cheap to produce. However, when the critics caught wind of their plan, they accused the Met of being bought. Subsequently, their plan was quashed.
Ilgenfritz’s operas never played at the Metropolitan Opera. As a consolation, the money was shared by eight other ‘less prestigious’ theatres listed as alternate beneficiaries.
You’ve made it to the last strange beneficiary on our list – and this one might be the most ambitious of the lot.
In 1927, The National Fund was established in the United Kingdom after an unknown man bequeathed the equivalent of USD $615,150 to his country.14 The anonymous gift from the British citizen stated the money could only be used once it had grown enough to clear the country’s debt entirely.
Over the years, the value of the fund has risen to the equivalent of USD $584 million. However, it’s still short of USD $2.3 trillion – the UK’s national debt as of 2020.15 This gaping differential means the money can’t be legally touched. In 2018, an application was made to the High Court from the UK government to release the money. A court date has been set for October 2020. Admirably, the fund’s trustee, Barclays wants the money shared amongst multiple charities.
The motive behind this patriotic deed is just as unclear as the identity of the man. However, it’s suggested it was a response to a 1919 Financial Times editorial by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, who urged wealthy citizens to help pay off the national debt accrued during World War I.
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