When we think of a Will we imagine a typewritten document prepared by a lawyer, signed by the testator and witnessed, but there are other less common types of Will that are equally valid and binding. A Holographic Will, for instance, is a Will entirely handwritten and signed by the testator, often without witnesses. The fact that it doesn’t always require witnesses and is accepted in some jurisdictions is because the signature of the testator is in the same handwriting as the body of the document and is therefore accepted as evidence that the testator actually created it.
Another type of Will is a Nuncupative Will or verbal Will that must have two witnesses. Such a Will is considered to be a “deathbed” Will because the testator doesn’t have time to draft a written Will. Holographic Wills and Nuncupative Wills are recognised in many jurisdictions, particularly for servicemen on active service, and in England such a Will is known as a Serviceman’s Will.
In a few jurisdictions, notably France and the state of Louisiana in the US, a Mystic Will is a legally binding Last Will and Testament. This rarely-used documen tis completed, signed, and sealed in secret, then delivered to a notary public along with a signed statement that the document is a valid Will. In front of witnesses, the notary then records on the envelope the circumstances of the transaction and the content remains secret until it is opened on the death of the testator.
While most Wills, whatever the type, are made in order to ensure family members are properly provided for after the testator’s death, some people have used them to make unusual bequests. As William Hazlitt, the English literary critic and essayist, said: “Few things show the human character in a more ridiculous light than the circumstances of Will-making. It is the latest opportunity we have of exercising the natural perversity of the disposition.” Here are some examples:
Shakespeare’s last wish was that his wife, Anne Hathaway, receive his “second best bed”.
Benjamin Franklin left instructions in his Will that his daughter not engage in “the expensive, vain and useless pastime of wearing jewels” to prevent her from removing the 408 diamonds studding the frame of a portrait of King Louis XVI, given to Franklin when he was ambassador to France.
The Will of Napoleon Bonaparte instructed his son “never to forget that he was born a French prince, and never to allow himself to become an instrument in the hands of the triumvirs who oppress the nations of Europe.”
Virgil, the classical Roman poet most renowned for his epic work The Aeneid left instructions in his Will to burn The Aeneid after his death because it was unfinished. The request was later removed from his Will after his friends found out.
And one Anthony Scott, wrote in his Will: “To my first wife Sue, whom I always promised to mention in my Will. Hello Sue!”