April Fools’ – Can a will provide the last laugh?!
There are many online and media pranks taking place today to mark April Fool’s day. For example, The Times has reported on the Drone Dog Walker, the latest pet gadget, which will apparently walk your pooch for you. Google has also introduced ‘Google Tulip’, a plant/human translation device which is supposed to allow humans to be able to communicate with tulips.
Distinguishing some of these stories and jokes can be tricky, given the amount of time and effort which some companies now put into their April Fools’ Day pranks. Similarly, some legacies can appear to defy logic or appear so incredible that the intended beneficiary may not believe that they are going to receive something from an estate.
Leaving money to random strangers
For example, Portuguese aristocrat, Louis Carlos De Noronha Cabral Da Camara chose to select the beneficiaries of his will in an unusual way. The beneficiaries were later told they had each been chosen at random from the Lisbon telephone directory in front of two witnesses some 13 years previously.
Many of the beneficiaries apparently believed that they were the victims of a prank. However, it was no joke, as Mr Da Camara was a bachelor when he died, aged 42 and had no children. There was also speculation that he may have wanted to amuse people after his death. Yet, as he had no immediate dependants whom he wished to benefit, there may have been some logic to him choosing his beneficiaries in this way.
Canadian lawyer, Charles Millar was also known for his love of practical jokes and his last will is thought to be his most successful. The will stated that it was “necessarily uncommon and capricious because I have no dependents or near relations and no duty rests upon me to leave any property at my desk and what I do leave is proof of my folly in gathering and retaining more than I require in my lifetime”.
How did Mr Millar “prank” his beneficiaries?
Firstly, his will provided that three of the beneficiaries, who were openly known to loathe each other, were granted a joint lifetime tenancy in Millar’s holiday home in Jamaica. Secondly, several people who were opposed horse racing were left £25,000 worth of Ontario Jockey Club stocks.
Thirdly, Millar left £700,000 of brewery stock in a Catholic business to several prominent Protestant ministers, on the basis that they participated in the management of the brewery and drew on its dividends.
However, the most famous bequest in Millar’s will was that the residue of his estate should be converted into cash 10 years after his death and left to a woman from Toronto who gave birth to the most children during that period. If there was a tie, the bequest would be divided equally. This became known as ‘The Great Stork Derby’ after the ‘race’ it could have sparked to have as many children as possible within that time period.
Unsurprisingly, there was an attempt to invalidate Miller’s will, on the grounds that it was contrary to public policy, but Millar had been very careful when preparing the document and the claim failed. Many other attempts made by Millar’s distant relatives to have it declared invalid also failed. When the estate was finally liquidated, it was worth $750,000 and the majority of the ‘prize’ was shared by four Toronto women who each had nine children.
Does the court support unusual bequests?
So, when a telephone directory and practical jokes have played a part in valid wills, is such eccentricity always supported?
When Nina Wang left her estimated $13-billion-dollar fortune to Feng Shui specialist, Tony Chan, in return for being granted ‘eternal life’, the Hong Kong High Court was unimpressed. In 2006, Ms Wang had changed her will, leaving everything to Mr Chan. A previous will had left her estate to her family and charities. Ms Wang’s will was later challenged and the court found that the will was invalid. An earlier will was upheld leaving the estate to a charitable trust run which was run by Ms Wang’s family.
The above may demonstrate that sometimes there is no reason for a bequest being left in a will other than the testator’s unique personal perception or sense of humour. It is therefore not always possible to accurately predict who will receive a legacy.