The Very Long and Very Short of Last Wills and Testaments

#wills #estateplanning #lastwillandtestament

When it comes to a Last Will and Testament, there are rules mandating how short or long it may be. Take a lesson from the following extremes of the shortest and longest wills on record.

The record for brevity in estate planning goes to Herr Karl Tausch of Langen, Hessen, West Germany. His will, dated January 19, 1967, is the shortest valid will on record. It consists of just two words: “Vse zene,” which, in Czech, means “All to wife.”

Tausch’s will was probated without complication. If you are looking for the shortest contested will, you’d have to look to the celebrated English 1906 case of Thorne v. Dickens. The will in that case consisted of just three words, “All for mother.” On its face, it would seem that the decedent’s mother would inherit everything. Once challenged, however, the court heard evidence that the deceased consistently referred to his wife as “Mother,” and determined that it was his intent to leave everything to her, instead of his mom.

On the other end of the spectrum is the will of Frederica Stilwell Cook. When she died in 1925, she left her final instructions in a will that was 1,066 pages and contained 95,940 words. This is just shy of the size of To Kill a Mockingbird (99,121 words).

Cook had her will bound in four leather-bound volumes with gilt-edged paper. Two volumes were 702 pages each, and the other two were 406 pages each. The pages are ruled with a single column and contain a priced inventory of laces, jewellery, furs, embroideries, dressing bags and objects of art. A substantial part of the will is in Cook’s own handwriting. The will is dated October 17, 1919, with a codicil dated March 2, 1924.

Among the provisions of the massive will were instructions to leave most of her estate to her children, for her executors to burn her diaries, to bury her wedding ring with her, and to see that her age is not inscribed on her tombstone.

Read about more unusual wills.

Read about more astonishing records.

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