Where There's a Will

updated 06/09/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/09/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

AN ACTOR LANDS A PLUM POSTHUMOUS ROLE

•Del Close, 1934-1999
•Left his skull to a theater for productions of Hamlet

It may be the most famous scene in theater--when Shakespeare's Hamlet lifts a skull and says: "Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest...." It's also an apt description of Close, a Chicago actor who was a mentor to comic greats including Mike Myers, Bill Murray and John Belushi and appeared in Ferris Bueller's Day Off and other films. When he died of emphysema, his will stipulated that his skull go to Chicago's Goodman Theatre for any production of Hamlet. "It's not the starring role," says his longtime partner Charna Halpern. "But Del was always willing to take smaller parts."

A WIDOW'S BEQUEST LEAVES ONE PAMPERED KITTY

•Margaret Layne, 1912-2002
•Left her $562,000 home and $160,000 to a cat

Cat-sitting isn't everyone's bag. But if Layne's neighbors want to inherit her $965,000 estate, they'll have to deliver food and milk to her cat Tinker until it dies. When Layne, a childless widow, passed away last year, her will designated just two beneficiaries. Her late husband's school got an oil painting. The rest went to Tinker. The neighbors get it all after Tinker's death. Nine...eight...seven...six...

A FREE HANGOUT, BUT YOU STILL NEED DOUGH

•Dacie Moses, 1883-1981
•Left her house to a college, along with a modest cookie-baking fund, on the condition that students bake there.

Living just a block from Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., where she was a campus librarian, Moses kept her two-story white home open to students, who would gather for cribbage, cookies and conversation. Now there's a free weekly brunch, and an a cappella group practices in a front room. "Dacie's spirit is here," says alumnus Dixon Bond, a Northfield city council member, who knew her. "It's like going to Grandma's house."

HELPING AILING KIDS CELEBRATE LIVING

•Anonymous donor
•Birthday cakes for kids with cancer

Grateful that their 13-year-old daughter had survived leukemia, a New York couple created a fund in 1996 at Children's Hospital of New York-Presbyterian to help young cancer patients like Patrick Duff, 6, celebrate milestones. "You should see the kids' eyes light up and the big smiles on their faces," says Duff's mother, Mary.

EVEN FIRST LADIES NEED EXTRA CASH

•Henry G. Freeman Jr., 1841-1917
•His trust provides $1,000 monthly pocket money to White House wives.

Calling the presidential salary "a miserable pittance," Freeman, a Philadelphia lawyer, stipulated that part of his $1.7 million estate go in perpetuity for "pin money" for presidential wives' "own and absolute use." A Philadelphia bank started mailing the checks only after Freeman's last heir died in 1989.

FISHING BOOTS NET A GIGANTIC WINDFALL

•Onni Nurmi, 1885-1962
•Gave his town stock--with potential

Nurmi left his Finnish hometown 760 shares of a little fishing-boot company that became cell phone giant Nokia. His bequest of $15,000 was at one point worth $50 million. Proceeds must benefit the elderly.

BRIDGE LOVER LEAVES A CURIOUS PLACE TO PLAY

•Donnie Stauth (1910-1993)
•Left $1,5 million for a small-town museum, including a special room for her bridge club

Montezuma, Kans. (pop. 900), doesn't have a hotel, but now it has a 10,000-sq.-ft. museum thanks to Stauth, a childless widow who made a fortune with her husband, Claude, in wheat farming. It houses 3,000 artifacts from their world travels—and has a room for Donnie's 50-year-old bridge club, complete with her dishes.

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