Even if you don't inherit anything, some wills make fascinating reading.
For example, a cemetery caretaker in Allentown, N.J., tired of gloomy funerals, recently ordered, in his will, that two fire engines be hired for his funeral. The first carried his body, and the second carried the flowers.A Mount Kisco, N.Y., woman ordered that her body be cremated, and the ashes scattered over the grave of a pet dog, who had died several years earlier.
And a French lawyer left $50,000 to a mental institution not too long ago as "restitution to clients who were insane enough" to employ his services.
Then there was Paul Revere's will. The legendary galloper of Revolutionary War days left one of his grandchildren a mere dollar.
Revere's handwritten will - filed in Boston on March 14, 1818 - divided $30,000 among his five children and 18 of his 19 grandchildren. However, he left only a buck to Frank, eldest son of his late daughter, Deborah . . . "He shall have no part of my estate," penned Paul, "except one dollar, which is bequeathed to him."
It was revealed, after the will was read, that Revere was peeved at Frank because he had changed his name to Francis.
Another famous American, Samuel Adams, left his "beloved wife" a lot of things she owned already.
He willed: "I give to my beloved wife, Elizabeth, all her wearing apprel. I also give her such books as she was the owner."
W.C. Fields, the great comedian, penned a will that inspired a long court battle. He left only $10,000 of his estate to his wife. The rest, about $800,000, was to be used to establish a W.C. Fields College for boys and girls, where "no religion of any sort is to be preached."
Mrs. Fields later broke the will, and the W.C. Fields College was never established.
After an old character actor by the name of Conrad Cantzen died in New York's St. Luke's Hospital, his will was discovered in his cold water flat in Greenwich Village.
He left "the sum of $227,000 for the establishment of The Conrad Cantzen Shoe Fund."
"Many times," willed Cantzen, "I have been on my uppers and the thinner the soles of my shoes were, the less courage I had to face the managers in looking for a job."
Since the fund was established, more than 15,000 requisitions for shoes have been issued to unemployed actors.
Mrs. Leslie B. Estabrook of Newton, Mass., added a most remarkable paragraph to the will she wrote in 1960, shortly before her death.
Wrote Mrs. Estabrook, who loved to play golf: "I wish to be cremated and my ashes scattered on the 18th green at the Country Club, Clyde Street, Brookline, Massachusetts."
Famous actor Edward G. Robinson, who died in 1973, bequeathed his million dollar art collection to a pet dog. Animals have often been preferred by will writers over those allegedly near and dear to them.
For example, Eleanor Ritchey, an heiress to the Quaker State Oil Company fortune, left $9 million to 73 stray mongrel dogs. She died in 1968 of a stroke at the age of 58 at her home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
A chap named Fred Allen, not the comedian, left $5,000 to a green parrot. Allen bequeathed the money to the bird because it said "hello" to him every day when he returned home from the office. Allen hailed from Brooklyn, and his will was probated in 1919. It proves it pays to be polite.
In 1944, a New York lawyer died and left $40,000 to his cat, Buster. Then Buster rolled over and died, and there was an involved court case to determine who should inherit the money from the cat.
Several years ago, John Macomber, a Framingham, Mass., resident, left $1 million "to care for my horses, dogs, and all other animals." Macomber, a bachelor sportsman, was reportedly "disillusioned" by human beings.
It should be pointed out that not everybody is wild about animals. For example, Mrs. Calvin Coolidge was left a sum of money by a Chicago lawyer because he had read somewhere she was not fond of cats. The same gentleman also left Queen Marie of Romania a tidy sum of money for the same reason.
A Salem, N.H. merchant, wanted everybody to have "a good cry" at his wake. So, in his will, he left money to hire a 12-piece orchestra to play dirges. He also directed that on the first five anniversaries of his passing, musicians should be hired to play sad songs for people who visited his home. The will was obeyed.
In 1926, a Toronto, Canada, bachelor named Charles Vance Miller left $500,000 to the Toronto woman who produced the greatest number of children between Oct. 31, 1926, the date of his death, and Oct. 31, 1936.
Nine months later, there was the start of a population explosion in Toronto. However, the family members were able to break the will before the decade ended.
A New York financier wrote in his will: "To my wife, I leave her lover and the knowledge I wasn't the fool she thought I was. To my son, I leave the pleasure of earning a living. For 25 years, he thought the pleasure was mine."
A public administrator for Westchester County in New York had quite a moving job on his hands after the will of an elderly woman was read back in the '40s. She instructed, after she was buried, that the bodies of her father, mother and brother, who all died earlier, should be brought over from Greece and buried with her. Then she ordered that a pyramid, measuring 425 square feet at the base, be built to mark the family plot.
England has had its share of wild wills, too. A Londoner left a sum of money behind to buy licenses for forgotten dogs in his town. The small sum didn't last too long. Another resident of the tight little island left $350 a year to her pet goldfish.
And in 1931, a retired Burmingham, England, manufacturer left "a talking picture" movie-style will. He had film made of himself reading the will. Then all the beneficiaries were invited to his home for what was billed as "Bank Night." The lights dimmed, the curtain opened, and the late manufacturer appeared on the silver screen to hand out his goodies. For some in the audience, it was a four-star production. But others didn't give it a single star - you can probably guess why.