Will Wishes: The Unique and the Unusual

Will Wishes: The Unique and the Unusual

A few individuals who died over the past year left some interesting bequests

Lest you think that people who died recently were boring … think again.  A few individuals who passed away within the last 12 months were quite “creative” in their wishes and bequests, to say the least.  And one gentleman with an unusual bequest—but so far, he’s still alive and kicking—is worth adding to the mix of what we may consider to be one-of-a-kind post-death requests.  Take a look to see “who left what” and judge for yourself which bequest takes the prize as the most imaginative.

A Big Tipper

From the looks of it, Aaron Collins loved artwork, his parents, his motorcycle and, most importantly, people.  So, last month, when the Kentucky resident died just three weeks after his 30th birthday, his family found a will that he left on his computer.  Aaron didn’t want a funeral.  What he did want, however, was to pay back any debts he owed his parents, to make sure his motorcycle and art were disposed of as he wished and to direct his family to “leave an awesome tip (and I don’t mean 25%. I mean $500 on a f***ing pizza).”1

So that’s exactly what Aaron’s brother Seth did.  On July 9, Seth started a Facebook page, “Aaron’s Last Wish,” in which he asked for donations to make Aaron’s dream come true.  Once the family received $500 in donations, they planned to go out to dinner and present a $500 tip to a waiter or waitress.  By the next day, they had amassed enough donations, and after dinner at Puccini’s restaurant in Lexington, Ky., the family called their waitress over and handed her $500. Less than a week after the first online posting for donations, the family had over $10,000—enough to tip 23 waiters or waitresses at $500 a pop.

As of Aug. 6, the Collins family has collected $55,899 as Aaron’s wish went viral.  Some donations come from family.  Some come from friends. Some come from strangers.  And some come anonymously.  Seth and his family plan to tip 111 waiters or waitresses $500 each, once a week, over the next two years.

From the looks of it, Aaron’s generous tipping philosophy may continue indefinitely.  Seth’s promise is that, “If we continue to receive money, we will continue giving these gifts randomly, so that in his death he can touch the lives of many more people than he had even dreamed of doing in life.”2

And you thought 20 percent was generous.

No Need to Die of a Broken Heart

Until recently, the residents of St Dennis, a small village in Cornwall, England, kept their fingers crossed that no one would have a heart attack.  That’s because St Dennis didn’t have a defibrillator in the entire town of approximately 2,700 residents.  That is, until 94-year-old Jo Yorke passed away in April and her 70-year-old son, Peter, used his inheritance to purchase the medical device for £1,600.3  Jo was known as a philanthropist who helped many organizations in the village, and her son thought it fitting that, rather than split up her estate for their large family, they should use the proceeds to purchase the life-saving device.

Along with the proceeds to buy the device, the village is offering National Vocational Qualification training to residents who want to learn how to use it.  And that’s a good idea: Since Jo’s death, two St Dennis residents have died from heart attacks . The defibrillator, which will reside at Gillets convenience store, will hopefully buck that trend. 

Drugs, Anyone?

One non-profit research organization, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), just became $5 million richer to develop psychedelics and marijuana for patients with unmet medical needs.  And four other organizations—the American Civil Liberties Union, the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), the Marijuana Policy Project and the Second Harvest Food Bank—received about $1.25 million each, thanks to a $10 million bequest by software pioneer Ashawna (Shawn) Hailey, who passed away on Oct. 4, 2011, at the age of 62.  Hailey, who was born a male but changed her first name and lived her life as a female after she retired from the technology industry, made her fortune by designing the launch sequencer for the Sprint Antiballistic Missile System, co-founding Meta-Software (which was sold to Avanti Corporation in 1996), building the first Intel compatible processor and designing HSPICE, a circuit simulator that’s considered the gold standard in the semiconductor industry.

Washington, D.C.‘s Marijuana Policy Project plans to use half of Hailey’s gift to pass the ballot initiative to regulate marijuana like alcohol in Colorado on Nov. 6.  MAPS plans to use its newly acquired $5 million to focus on its research on MDMA (commonly known as “ecstasy”). Currently, MAPS is conducting a worldwide series of phase 2 pilot studies of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for patients with post-traumatic stress disorder, along with two other trials designed to show the Food and Drug Administration that MDMA is a safe adjunct to psychotherapy. And, the DPA will direct Hailey’s bequest to strengthen its movement to end the drug war and “replace it with policies that promote [Hailey’s] values of freedom and compassion.”4

A Purr-fect Bequest

Native New Yorker Daniel J. Garr moved to the Santa Cruz, Calif. area about 30 years ago.  But, the 67-year-old professor in the Urban Planning Department at San Jose State University was more than an educator.  He was an avid animal lover, particularly of dogs and cats.  And he showed that love through a bequest he made after he passed away on Jan. 11, 2011.  In his will, Garr left $50,000 to Project Purr, an all-volunteer feral cat advocacy organization.  The year Garr passed away, the effects of the poor economy had taken a toll on Watsonville, Calif.’s East Lake Animal Clinic, which was running at a deficit.  And that meant that stray cats were running wild, as it became difficult for the clinic to continue spaying and neutering feral cats in the community.  To many—and obviously, to Garr—spaying and neutering is a process that reduces the feral cat population in a humane manner, saves money and resources and allows shelter employees to focus on promoting adoption of its animals.  According to one of the co-founders of Project Purr, “Daniel Garr’s generous gift leaves a lasting legacy of love to our community and to feral cats and kittens.”5  Wonder what the cats think of it.

Even More Purr-fect

While feral cats in California are getting spayed and neutered, one formerly stray cat in Italy is sitting mighty pretty.  In November 2011, 94-year-old Italian heiress Maria Assunta left her entire estate to the four-year-old black cat she found wandering in the streets of Rome and named him “Tomasso.”

Assunta, who had no living relatives, died owning multiple homes, villas, stocks and bank accounts.  When she became ill, she drafted and signed a handwritten will dated Nov. 26, 2009, in which she left all of her belongings to Tomasso.  Assunta had originally wanted to leave her estate to an animal welfare organization to look after Tomasso, but none of them satisfied Assunta that they would look after Tomasso in the manner she desired.  Assunta then met Stefania, who was a nurse and became her caregiver, taking care of both Tomasso and Assunta up to the day she died.  Under Italian law, animals can’t inherit fortunes directly. But, pets can inherit through a trustee—the role that Stefania has taken on.

At her death, Assunta’s estate was valued at approximately €10m (about $13 million), comprised of cash, property and homes in Rome, Milan and Calabria.  Not a bad result for an alley cat that’s now the third richest pet in the world—behind a chimp and a German shepherd.

Show Some Skin

Finally, here’s one bequest that gives new meaning to the word “unique.”  Retired Australian teacher Geoff Ostling—who’s still alive—has pledged to donate his tattooed skin to the National Gallery in Canberra, Australia.  Ostling, who’s 65 years old, has tattoos covering his body from neck to ankle, depicting the theme, “All the flowers of a Sydney garden.”  The tattoos were drawn over a period of 15 years and include renderings of plants, gardens, flowers and a view of Rose Bay, Australia, in the distance.

According to Ostling, “To donate skin is not the most amazing thing in the world, but the tattoos are revolutionary. It has never been done as a whole body before and not in a gallery.”7  It’s unclear what the National Gallery will do when Ostling passes away and the museum has to act on the donation.

As an aside, not all of Ostling’s bequests are so unusual . He’s taking the more traditional route with his internal organs—with a plan to leave them to medicine.


1. See http://aaroncollins.org/; see also Dylan Lovan, “Man’s Dying Wish For $500 Tip Inspires Charity” (July 31, 2012), www.businessweek.com/ap/2012-07-31/mans-dying-wish-for-500-tip-inspires-charity.

2. See http://aaroncollins.org/?p=13#comment-1584.

3. “St Dennis Defibrillator Bought With Jo Yorke’s Inheritance,” BBC News Cornwall (July 25, 2012), www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cornwall-18986234.

4. “Software Pioneer Leaves $10 Million Bequest To Five Leading Non-profits In Health And Drug Policy Reform” (May 30, 2012), www.bizjournals.com/prnewswire/press_releases/2012/05/30/DC16193.

5. Shelley Frost, “Generous Bequest Received by Project Purr to Benefit Feral Cats” (Jan. 17, 2012), www.examiner.com/article/generous-bequest-received-by-project-purr-to-benefit-feral-cats.

6. John Hooper, “Italian Cat Inherits €10m Fortune” (Dec. 9, 2011), www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/dec/09/italian-cat-inherits-fortune; Kevin Dolak, “Woman Leaves $13M Fortune to Pet Cat” (Dec. 12, 2011), http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2011/12/woman-leaves-13m-fortune-to-pet-cat/.

7. Vikki Campion, Tattooed Geoff Ostling Donating His Body to Art,The Daily Telegraph (May 1, 2009), www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/weird/tattooed-geoff-ostling-donating-his-body-to-art/story-e6frev20-1225705543901.

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.