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Bizarre Estate Planning Outcomes
Thursday, May 21, 2015

Estate planning typically brings up a warranted weariness in people. Discussing with a Cincinnati estate planning attorney what to do with your possessions and assets after your life has ended is never an easy subject. However, to some, what they have left to their friends and family through a will can be thoughtful, but also comical at times. From ancient times to more modern times, the way people have handled their estate planning (and some of them didn’t even have an estate planning attorney!) will either make you laugh or make you thankful you’re living in the 21st century.

      You may have that one friend who can talk a mile a minute, but do you know how much that person can write? Probably not as much as Frederica Evelyn Stilwell Cook did in her last will and testament. Why is her will so notable? Ms. Cook’s will is said to be the longest will ever filed for probate. And she died in 1925 at the age of 68. Cook left the majority of her belongings to her children, and she had a few requests once she had died, one of them being that her age not to be inscribed on her tombstone.

      Clocking in at 95,940 words and 1,066 pages, Cook’s will rivals the length of a Harry Potter novel, but probably not so much in content. Her will was even so large, it took up four volumes in its leather-bound, gilt-edged state. The reason her last will and testament seemed to be so much larger than anyone else’s? As a large part of the will is done in Cook’s own handwriting, experts believe that is reasoning for its lengthiness. Thankfully, in 2015, we have computers to type these things out. (Though, if a typed-out will came to be 1,066 pages, we’d have some work to do as Cincinnati estate planning attorneys!)

He didn’t even live here!
      Whether you visited one of the museums on an eighth grade field trip to Washington, D.C., or are a local to the area and have visited multiple times in your life, almost everyone in the United States has visited — if not, at least heard of — the Smithsonian Institution. But like many 14 year olds, not many seem to know how this institution came to be. We have James Smithson and the odd bequest in his will to thank for this collection of museums. You see, Smithson wasn’t even a U.S. citizen; he was actually an English scientist.

      A wealthy scientist, Smithson did not marry nor have any children in his lifetime. So naturally, what does a wealthy chemist and mineralogist do? He left his fortune to his nephew, Henry James Hungerford, but if Hungerford were to die with no heirs, then Smithson bequeathed his whole estate to the United States of America, “to [be] found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” Why would Smithson leave his estate to a country that he had never even visited while he was alive? Well, the official reason penned by Smithson himself was to “increase the diffusion of knowledge” among men, but many scholars of (and in) the Smithsonian Institution speculate it is related to his resentment over the circumstances of his illegitimate birth. Smithson once wrote he wanted his name to live on long after his death. And as the institution is still thriving in 2015, we’re pleased that although he didn’t even live here, with Smithson’s will, past and future generations can become “citizens of the world” per his request.

The way estate planning attorneys have handled last wills and testaments has greatly changed since Frederica Cook and James Smithson’s wills. But there is one thing Ms. Cook and Mr. Smithson had that many people in 2015 still don’t have: a will. It does not matter how old you are, whether or not you’re wealthy, having a Cincinnati estate planning attorney structure a plan for you is paramount no matter what walk of life you may come from. Plus, you don’t want to end up on a blog post about wacky estate planning and their outcomes in the future, do you?

The associates at Wolterman Law Office can structure and maintain a personalized estate plan for you on an individual level. All you need to do is contact us today to get started. Or, please view the overview of these Cincinnati estate planning attorneys’ services to see how we can help you.


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Wolterman Law Office LPA provides legal counsel for clients in Hamilton County, Warren County, Clermont County and Butler County in Southwest Ohio, including communities such as Loveland, Cincinnati, Mason, West Chester, Blue Ash and Milford.

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