Free to Bequeathe

Without children to be our natural heirs, we childless folks may struggle with what to do with our worldly goods when we shuffle off to heaven. To whom do we leave our photo albums? Who will care about my collection of antique ruby glass? But we are also free to do whatever we want with our stuff. As an old text called Family Systems and Inheritance Patterns notes, childless people often name outside beneficiaries and really tick off their families.

Many childless people leave their estates to good causes, such as scholarships, charities, animal shelters, medical research, etc. That’s pretty much what I plan to do.

But some folks go a little farther outside the norm. For example, George Bernard Shaw bequeathed millions to anyone who could devise a new alphabet that made more sense than the one we have. Louis da Camara, a Portuguese man with no family, picked strangers out of a Lisbon phone book to be his heirs. Ed Headrick, perfector of the Frisbee, asked that his ashes be molded into memorial discs to be sold, with profits to be used for a Frisbee museum. My favorite: Ruth Lilly, an amateur poet, left $100 million to a poetry magazine that had repeatedly rejected her work.

Another good one from the UK: A Mr. F left several relatives each “one penny as that is what they are worth as members of my family.” Show of hands: how many of us are tempted to do that? Me too.

How about you? Have you made a will? Who will inherit your earthly wealth? Did you know that in some states, including Oregon, where I live, stepchildren are not considered your legal heirs unless you write them into your will? What unusual bequests have you heard about or considered doing? Without children–and assuming the spouse goes first–we are free to bequeath as we please. Any thoughts?

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