7 People Who Died and Left Their Fortunes To Strangers

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It's not unusual for wealthy people to leave part or all of their wealth to family and friends. It's extremely rare, however, that people leave estates and fortunes to complete strangers. Here are seven of those exceptional people.

1. An unnamed wealthy Brooklynite

A New York man who died in 1919 was well-known for his "wealth and eccentricity," and his will did not disappoint. He left these instructions to the executor of his estate: "I own seventy one pairs of trousers. It is my desire that they be sold by auction after my death and that the proceeds of the sale shall be distributed to the deserving poor of my parish. They must, however, be disposed of severally to different bidders, no single individual being permitted to purchase more than one pair." The orders were carried out as he wished. It was later discovered that hidden in each pair of pants was a fabric pouch containing ten 100-dollar bills. He left his family nothing.

2. John White

When John White of Somerset, England, died at the age of 96, he left £40,000 to his nephew Richard, which Richard stashed in a trust fund for his own children. (White had no children of his own and had never married.) But the interesting part involves the remaining £2,000,000 of White's fortune. The funds were bequeathed to a number of churches, school and organizations in the area—none of which had ever heard of Mr. White, and had no idea why the money was left to them. White's family took it in stride, though: "He liked to surprise people," his nephew said.

3. Charles Vance Millar

Canadian lawyer Charles Vance Millar was known among friends as something of a prankster, so no one was particularly surprised to find that his will held a number of unusual bequests. The unmarried, childless Millar had three friends who hated each other, so he left them a vacation home in Jamaica ... but all three men had to live there together. He left a number of anti-horse-racing activists each $25,000 worth of Ontario Jockey Club stock. But the real clincher was his will's tenth clause: The remainder of Millar's estate was to be liquidated ten years after the date of his death, and the full value left to the Toronto woman who had borne the most children in that time. The Great Stork Derby was famously contested by the Supreme Court of Canada, but it survived a decade of litigation and in 1936, the $750,000 value of Millar's remaining assets were divided among 6 women. Four had delivered 9 children each, and two others received a smaller portion out of court. In all, Millar's estate supported 54 children.

4. Dr. Meszaros

In 1930, a newspaper report from Vienna tells the story of a young Austrian actress who was awarded the entirety of a stranger's estate. Apparently, a man referred to only as Dr. Meszaros left $50,000 to a woman named Corin Ward. It seems the good doctor was in love with the woman but never had the courage to speak to her, and being unmarried and childless, left his fortune to her instead.

5. Henri de la Salle

Again in 1930, a young actress found herself suddenly wealthy courtesy of a stranger. Lillian Malrup was informed by letter that a friend of her deceased uncle—whom she had never met—had died in Paris and left her $700,000. The only conditions of the bequest were that she set aside $100,000 in a trust fund, and then use the interest to help needy college students. Ms. Malrup was surprised, of course—she said, "I scarcely knew of M. La Salle. My uncle had mentioned him in letters to me."

6. Luis Carlos de Noronha Cabral da Camara

When Luis Carlos died at 42, he was unmarried, childless, and had no living relatives. But the Portuguese state didn't retain his estate, as is customary in such cases, because Luis Carlos had made arrangements 13 years earlier: his 12-room apartment in Lisbon, house in the north of Portugal, car, and 25,000 euros were to be divided equally among 70 people whose names he chose at random from a Lisbon phone book. Because it's rather unusual to have a will in Portugal, many of Luis Carlos' benefactors believed they were being scammed.

7. Archibald McArthur

McArthur was a mysterious character. He lived in Dodgeville, Wisconsin after the Civil War; though he started out penniless, he soon became a successful attorney and amassed a sizeable fortune. And just as suddenly, he decided to take a personal vow of poverty—gone were the snappy suits and fancy hats he'd become famous for among Dodgeville residents. He gave away almost everything and hung out in the cemetery a lot. In 1922, he bought a car and moved to Florida. When he died, his will revealed that he had left each of his remaining relatives $5. The rest of his money (estimated to be worth around $3 million today) went to a man he'd once met on a park bench. McArthur is something of a celebrity in Wisconsin, where he's usually just called the Dodgeville Hermit.

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October 16, 2012 - 2:00pm
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