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By Lane V. Erickson, Idaho Estate Planning Attorney

If there’s one thing I’ve learned during the Coronavirus pandemic, it’s the importance of being able to laugh at ourselves and at other funny situations that arise. Certainly, the pandemic is serious. Because of this, we need to find ways to relieve our own stress and two keep ourselves emotionally stable. Laughter is sometimes the best medicine.

Based on this, I’ve done some research to find some of the wackiest probates in history so I can share these with you. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed researching them.

1616 William Shakespeare

The famous playwright and poet William Shakespeare died in April 1616. As with many other prominent celebrities of his time, he had a written last will and testament in part because of the illness that ended up taking his life. Shakespeare was very generous with his daughters leaving each of them the equivalent of about a $500,000 in today’s money.

Shakespeare also left various gifts of money to his sister, his nephews, his granddaughter, and even to the poor where he lived. So far so good. However, the gift to his wife was a little strange, at least as it is written in his Will. To his wife Anne he left his “second-best bed”. He left everything else to his daughter Susanna and son-in-law.

The good news is that it is understood that his wife, through English common law, was entitled to one-third of his estate as well as his residence for life. So even though Shakespeare appeared to be a little uncaring, it appears that he knew his wife would be well taken care of.

1894 Robert Louis Stevenson

The famous author, Robert Louis Stevenson died in December of 1894. He was a Scottish novelist and travel writer. The books he is most famous for writing include Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Treasure Island, and the Children’s Garden of verses.

Apparently, he also had a sense of humor. The story is told that in 1891 he learned that the 12-year-old daughter of a good friend of his was not happy because her birthday was on Christmas day. So, in his written last will and testament he bequeathed his birthday, which was November 13th, to her. He told her she was allowed to use that date as her own birthday because he would no longer need it.

1930 Tim Zink

Townsend “Tim” Zink was an Iowa Attorney who simply did not like women. In fact, it’s probably better to say that he was a woman-hater. It’s reported that after he died and during the probate of his last will and testament it was reported that he gave nothing to his wife, only $5 to his daughter, and the rest of his entire fortune, which included $100,000, which would be equivalent to about $1.5 million today, was to fund a trust to finance a “womanless library”. The specific instruction was that over-the-door a sign would read “No Women Admitted”.

Both the wife and the daughter challenged the will contesting it on the grounds of insanity. George Donahue a doctor who testified was the Superintendent of the State Mental Hospital and had often used Zink’s legal services. He was able to provide testimony supporting a conclusion of mental illness. In the end, it appears that the daughter received the entire estate.

1970 Janis Joplin

Janis Joplin was a celebrated American blues rock singer. She was born in 1943 and died in 1970 as a result of a drug overdose. Her history-making stage performances, and her problems with drug and alcohol abuse were the basis for the movie The Rose.

Her stated instructions at her death followed the way she lived her life. In her last will and testament Janis left the sum of $2,500 so that her friends could get blasted one last time after she was gone. This would be about $17,000 in today’s money. That would be one big party!


If you have any questions about your estate or how to simplify your plans for your family and loved ones, we can help.  Call us toll free at 877-232-6101 or 208-232-6101 for a free consultation with Lane Erickson and the Racine Olson team of Estate Planning attorneys in Pocatello. You can also email Lane Erickson directly at We will answer your questions and will help you solve your Pocatello Estate Planning problems. I have helped numerous clients create their own customized estate plans and I’m confident that I can help you too.

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