What Are the Weirdest Wills by Writers?
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What Are the Weirdest Wills by Writers?

What did famous writers leave in their Wills? What can we learn from these writers about creating Wills? This article discusses some of the weirdest Wills by famous writers and some lessons you can take away from these examples! Scroll to read more!

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Writers have long possessed a unique ability to craft worlds and stories that captivate readers. Perhaps then, it should come as no surprise that history’s greatest writers seem to delight in writing their own Wills. Their goals weren’t always aligned with what an attorney would tell them to do. Instead, these famous writers used their literary Wills to settle scores, protect their reputations, and encourage fanciful acts of creativity. So let us delve into the peculiar legacies left behind by some famous writers. 

Mark Twain's 100-Year Publication Ban:

American author Mark Twain is best known for his timeless classics like "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” Twain predicted that he would die the next time that Halley’s Comet arrived:  “I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. The Almighty has said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks, they came together, they must go out together.’” Twain was correct; he died on April 21, 1910, one day after the Comet was closest to the Earth. Twain was no stranger to the law. His father was a judge and a lawyer who died when his son was just 11. Although Twain knew the law, he eschewed a career in it. “I never intend to be a lawyer. I have been a slave several times in my life, but I’ll never be one again.” Ouch! Twain’s Will included an intriguing provision. Twain, whose real name was Samuel Clemens, left instructions that his autobiography could not be published until 100 years after his death. This unconventional stipulation ensured that Twain's unfiltered thoughts and opinions would only be revealed to the world at a time when they would no longer cause controversy or personal repercussions. The autobiography was not published until 2010, in keeping with the author’s last wishes.

Franz Kafka's Posthumous Destruction:

The renowned Czech writer Franz Kafka, famous for his surreal and existential works, had a profoundly unique request in his will. Kafka instructed his close friend and literary executor, Max Brod, to destroy all of his unpublished manuscripts upon his death. Kafka had a complex relationship with literature and law. “I am made of literature," he said, "and cannot be anything else." But Kafka was also a lawyer who graduated with a degree from Charles University in Prague. Although he assumed that the law wouldn’t interfere with his literary pursuits, his job as a lawyer informed all of his writings, which contain intense confrontations with bureaucracy and power. Kafka thought his literary output was horrifying, saying, "My scribbling … is nothing more than my own materialization of horror. It shouldn't be printed at all. It should be burnt." Brod ignored Kafka’s wish, choosing not to destroy his writings. Although this was not in line with Kafka’s Will, Brod’s betrayal ensured that Kafka didn’t die an obscure writer. When Kafka was alive, few people ever read him. After his untimely death at age 40 in 1929, Kafka became one of the most influential writers of all time.

Charles Dickens’ Harsh Words for His Wife:

The English novelist Charles Dickens is renowned for timeless classics like "A Tale of Two Cities" and "Great Expectations.”  His character Ebenezer Scrooge is one of the most famous literary characters in history. Dickens used his Last Will and Testament to express his preference for his mistress - a mistress who he categorically denied knowing when news of the affair first hit the newspapers. When Dickens passed away in 1869, he left an estate that would be valued at £50 million pounds today. Although he bequeathed money to all of his surviving children, he gave his wife Catherine the brush off.  “I desire to simply record that my wife has been in receipt from me of an annual income of £600 [around £300,000 in today’s money] while all the great charges of a numerous and expensive family have been devolved wholly upon myself.” In other words, he gave her an allowance, but he had to pay a lot of bills for her and the nine children, and he wasn’t too thrilled about it. 

However, his mistress, Ellen Lawless Ternan, figures prominently in the Will. In fact, she was mentioned first. He gave her the equivalent of £1 million in today’s money. What was the backstory here? Well, Dickens fell in love with Ternan when she was 18 years old and an aspiring actress. Their relationship lasted for 13 years. Publicly Dickens disavowed Ternan because the age difference would’ve savaged his reputation. Privately he drew up a legal separation from Catherine, hence the cold words for her in his Will.

George Bernard Shaw's Alphabet:

George Bernard Shaw, the Irish playwright, and essayist known for his sharp wit and social commentary, wanted to encourage creative literary works in the future. His Will left a part of his fortune to a trust that was to be used to encourage the creation of a totally new alphabet. It took some time before his trustee was able to honor this strange but inventive request. In 1950, the trustee created a competition to design an alphabet. The goal was for the new alphabet to be a simple and effective way for printing the English language. Shaw’s trust had three criteria for the alphabet:  it needed to be at least 40 letters long, it needed to be phonetic; and it should be distinct from the Latin alphabet. Shaw wanted a new way of communicating to eliminate the problems of spelling in English, hence the focus on phonetics. Ronald Kingsley Read was one of four people to win the competition. Eventually, he would be given sole responsibility for designing the new alphabet, which was known as the “Shavian” or Shaw alphabet.”  

Roald Dahl's Viking Funeral:

Roald Dahl, the beloved children's author responsible for enchanting tales such as "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," “Gremlins,” and "Matilda," was a thoroughly original person. New York Magazine reported that his final words were "You know, I'm not frightened. It's just that I will miss you all so much." After Dahl seemed to fall unconscious, his nurse injected him with morphine. Dahl then unexpectedly said the words “Ow, fuck!” and then passed away. Dahl’s Will contained extensive instructions about his funeral. Dahl asked to be buried with his favorite chocolate bars, the HB pencils he used to write his books and stories, burgundy wine, a power saw, and pool cues. Dahl also wanted a spectacular sendoff, asking to be given a Viking funeral. That means Dahl’s body was put on a wooden ship with his cherished items, which was then set on fire. While the ship burned, someone performed a reading of the Dylan Thomas poem  “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.” 

William Shakespeare's Second Best Bed:

William Shakespeare is probably the most well known writer who has ever lived, and yet the details of his life are often frustratingly buried. There is so little known about Shakespeare that many people do not think that the Shakespeare who famously owned the Globe Theater is the same man who wrote the world’s most-produced plays. People have proposed that Shakespeare was really Christopher Marlow, Roger Bacon, or Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford. (We’re Oxfordians here at FastWill). Shakespeare’s Will is also a strange and mysterious document. One of the most intriguing details of Shakespeare's will is the bequest of his "second-best bed" to his wife, Anne Hathaway. The bequest reads, "Item I gyve unto my wife my second best bed with the furniture." 

This provision has sparked much speculation and debate among scholars and Shakespeare enthusiasts. Some have interpreted it as a slight towards his wife, suggesting that the "second-best bed" was a symbolic gesture implying a strained relationship. However, others argue that the "second-best bed" might have held sentimental value as the marital bed, whereas the "best bed" would have been reserved for guests. Ultimately, the true significance of this bequest remains a mystery. and his second-best bed to his wife. Shakespeare’s Will has many specific bequests. Oddly though, his wildly popular literary output is not mentioned at all. The Will doesn’t include any direct reference to Shakespeare's plays or literary works. Given his prolific writing career and the enduring legacy of his plays, it is bizarre that he did not make specific provisions for the publication or preservation of his works.

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