Estate planning isn’t the first topic that comes to mind when you think of fun conversation starters and yet it turns out this apparently mundane subject is full of weird but true facts. However surprising, this makes sense when you consider that the oldest known will—the Will of Uah—was found in an Egyptian tomb and dates back to 2548 BC. With over 4,500 years of history, it only stands to reason that a few funny and interesting stories would emerge from the world of estate planning.

5 Weird but True Facts About Estate Planning

1. The Smithsonian Owes its Existence to Estate Planning
James Smithson was born in Paris, France as the illegitimate child of Elizabeth Hungerford Keate Macie and the 1st Duke of Northumberland, Hugh Percy. Shortly after his birth, he naturalized to Britain and, later in life, became a celebrated chemist and mineralogist.

Smithson never married and had no children but had the good sense to establish an estate plan—and lucky for us he did! Initially, he left his estate to his nephew but stipulated in his will that should his nephew die without heirs his estate would be used “to found in Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.” Thus, the Smithsonian Institution was born and we have all benefited as a result.

2. The Notion of Power of Attorney is Older than the Colosseum
Construction on Colosseum in Rome began in 69 AD under Roman Emperor Vespasian and was completed in 80 AD under Roman Emperor Titus. That was a long, long time ago but not nearly as long ago as when the first known power of attorney was drafted. This document dates to the First year of Evil-Merodach, 561 BC, and originates in Mesopotamia—a historical region that occupies modern Iraq.

3. The Notion of a Revocable Trust May Be Younger than Some Readers
While people have been using powers of attorney for millennia, they have been using revocable trusts (or living wills) for only a few decades. It wasn’t until 1976 that California became the first state to allow the creation of a revocable trust. This revolutionized estate planning by giving individuals far greater control of how their assets were used after their passing.

Despite the relative novelty of a revocable trust, the concept of trusts generally has been around for a while. The first trusts date back to 800 AD when deployed Roman soldiers would transfer ownership of their property to a trusted friend in order to ensure their families were cared for should they die.

4. The Longest Will Ever Written Was Longer than Don Quixote (Which is Saying Something!)
When Frederica Evelyn Stillwell Cook died, her will was discovered to span 1,066 pages. By comparison, most editions of Miguel de Cervantes’ masterpiece Don Quixote come in at just under 800 pages. Arguably, no better writer than Cervantes has ever lived, and nonetheless, most readers never finish his colossal novel. Stillwell Cook (or her attorney) were no doubt inferior scribes which give readers a sense of how painstaking the probate hearing featuring her will must have been.

5. The Shortest Will Ever Written Was Shorter than the Average Tweet
The average tweet is 28 characters, or between 4 to 7 words long. The shortest will, by contrast, was only 10 characters or 3 words and read, “All to son.”

The above only account for a sliver of the many weird but true facts that relate to estate planning.

To learn more about this millennia-old practice or to begin your estate plan today, do not hesitate to reach out to the Deliberato Law Center either by calling us at (216) 341-3413 or using the contact form on our website. 


Contact the Estate Planning Attorneys at Deliberato Law Center