Trivia

Famous Last Wills and Testaments of Businessmen and Millionaires

Some famous and bizarre last wills and testaments of businessmen and millionaires including J.P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, and John D. Rockefeller.

John Jacob Astor American merchant Died: 1848

Last Will: Nearly all of Astor's estate, valued at $150 million and perhaps the largest in the world at the time, went to his son, William Backhouse. Another $30,000, given to Alexander Hamilton, reverted when Hamilton was killed by Aaron Burr in 1804, before the will was probated. He also gave $100,000 to the Astor Library with the condition that the income from the invested money be used to buy additional books. This reference library became a part of the giant N.Y. Public Library.

Phineas T. Barnum American showman Died: 1891

Last Will: With no sons to inherit his fortune, the master showman offered his grandson, Clinton H. Seeley, $25,000 if "he shall habitually use the name of Barnum, either as Clinton Barnum Seeley, or C. Barnum, Seeley, or Barnum Seeley in his name, so that the name Barnum shall always be known as his name." Clinton readily agreed, accepting Barnum's 2nd choice. The Barnum estate totaled $4.1 million. In retaliation for his daughter Helen's notorious conduct, Barnum revoked the earlier, generous provisions he had made for her and instead gave her some western property he considered to be worthless, in return for a "quit claim" on his estate. The Denver, Colo., land proved to have valuable mineral deposits which made Helen wealthier than all the other Barnum heirs put together.

J. P. Morgan

American financier

Died: 1913

Last Will: The male members of the family (one son, 2 sons-in-law) were willed $5 million outright. The distaff side (wife, 3 daughters) were left a total of $10 million, in trust, with the power to will the principal. Morgan's 3 sisters were not provided for, not from lack of affection, but because "the property which they already have makes the same seem unnecessary." His art treasures were given to his son, with the advice that they be placed on permanent display "for the instruction and pleasure of the American people." Morgan also gave each employee of J. P. Morgan and Co. a year's salary.

Andrew Carnegie

American industrialist and philanthropist

Died: 1919

Last Will: After selling out to J. P. Morgan for $400 million in 1900, Carnegie devoted the balance of his life to giving away his fortune. He felt that, after one's family's needs were provided for, the wealth which remained was to be held only as a public trust, ". . . to be administered for the benefit of the community." Carnegie built 2,509 free libraries in following this philosophy, spending over $56 million. Before his death, he had managed to give away over $308 million.

Basil Zaharoff

International financier and munitions king

Died: 1936

Last Will: The "mystery man of Europe" was reported to have accumulated a fortune of pound 100 million during an armament career in which he was accused of promoting warfare for personal profit. His will, naming his 2 daughters as his heirs, showed the sum as a mere pound 1 million.

John D. Rockefeller

American oilman and philanthropist

Died: 1937

Last Will: After assets were transferred to the Rockefeller Foundation, the residual estate of $25 million was left in trust primarily to Mrs. Margaret Strong de Cuevas, his granddaughter, and her descendants. Rockefeller did so, to the exclusion of his other grandchildren, because they had already been provided for "when the time came that I felt it wise to place upon my children the responsibility of owning and administering substantial sums." By that time, Margaret's mother, Bessie, had died, thus necessitating this separate trust.

Henry Ford

American industrialist

Died: 1947

Last Will: Ford's worth amounted to $600 million, primarily as stock in the Ford Motor Co. Having previously provided for his wife, he gave all the Class "A" nonvoting stock of the Ford Motor Co. to the Ford Foundation. The Class "B" voting stock was divided into 5 equal shares, for his son, Edsel, and his 4 grandchildren.

Marjorie Merriweather

Post Breakfast-food heiress

Died: 1973

Last Will: Left most of her $150 million fortune to her 3 daughters. Her Texas real-estate holdings included nearly all of 2 counties. The base for the fortune came from the cereal products promoted as Postum, Post Toasties, and Grape Nuts. Mrs. Post bequeathed sums as great as $50,000 to some of her loyal retainers.

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