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Last Will and Testament Facts

From the longest recorded will to last wishes that could not be fulfilled, this article addresses interesting facts regarding last will and testaments. Some people mentioned include a typical American housewife, actress Vivian Leigh, and the ancient Romans.

The Shortest Legal Will Ever

To date, the shortest valid will in the world is attributed to Karl Tausch of Germany, who simply stated “All to wife” in January of 1967.

Longest Will Ever

Although American housewife Frederica Cook did not have many possessions, she still managed to write an extremely long last will and testament. When she was finished, her final wishes and goodbyes totaled 95,940 words ,a length comparable to a novel. The bulk of her will contained farewells, best wishes, and other words to her family, friends, and even enemies. At probate, the will was not read.

Rejected Donations

When actress Vivien Leigh (from Gone with the Wind fame) prepared her will, she left her stunning eyes to an organ bank. They were unfortunately rejected because at the time of her death, she had suffered from tuberculosis.

Oldest Found Last Will and Testament

The concept of a will dates back to ancient days. In the past, the word ‘will’ was used to specify real estate left to others, while ‘testament’ was used to identify the personal belongings that one wished to leave to loved ones and friends. Today, the word ‘will’ is used to refer to anything (real estate or personal possession) that is left behind by another. The oldest document that represents a will was discovered by an archeologist named Sir Flinders Petrie during an excavation in a tomb in Egypt. The tomb dated back to 2500 BC.

Roman Influence in Documenting Final Wishes

During the 1st century, the Romans are credited with using the will as a legally binding document. The ancient Romans acknowledged that the inheritance of property or goods could not occur unless the items in question belong to an individual and not a group or to the state. Thanks to Roman lawyers, the ‘living will’ was born.

During those times, a middleman (called a familae emptor) acted as the executor. For example, a husband would execute a fake sale of his estate to a middleman who would promise to let the husband keep his real estate for the duration of his life. When the husband died, the middleman ‘owned’ the estate and was responsible for distributing it according to how the deceased wished.

This practice allowed the direct transfer of goods from a dead person to the living. The Romans deemed this necessary to appease religious and legal obstacles. The dead no longer possessed any rights and as a corpse, the Romans believed that their possessions became property of the gods. The middleman was a way for ‘sold’ goods to remain amongst the living. Eventually, the Romans abandoned the use of middlemen and started to recognize that the testament of a dead man could be followed without angering the gods.