Georgia Voice columnist Melissa Carter

Melissa Carter: Family wills reveal true feelings

Family can come in many different forms. You can be part of a traditional or nontraditional family that lives under one roof, or your family may consist of a collection of friends.

How close you are to your family can also be diverse, and the best way to find out how a family member felt about you is when their last will and testament is read for the first time.

It was revealed this week that former University of North Carolina men’s basketball coach Dean Smith, who died in February, left $200 to every one of his players who received a varsity letter. According to Smith’s trust, the money included the message, “enjoy a dinner out, compliments of Coach Dean Smith.” The trustee says 180 checks were cut, with a total value of $36,000 worth of dinners.

Another example of a friend-focused will is Marilyn Monroe’s. She gave all her belongings and clothes to her acting coach, Lee Strasberg. The will instructed Lee to distribute the items to her friends and family, but he never gave them away. He instead stored them in a warehouse.

Napoleon Bonaparte requested that his head be shaved after his death and the hair given to his friends and family. Whether they wanted that treasure was never revealed.

When author Robert Louis Stevenson died, he left his friend Annie Ide something unique. She had previously complained to Stevenson about the inconvenience of being born on Christmas, so he left her November 13 as a new birthday.

Let’s not forget about our four-legged family members. They have been included in many famous wills, like fashion designer Alexander McQueen’s. He left $75,000 of his fortune to his dogs.

Hotel owner Leona Helmsley left $12 million to her Maltese dog, cutting most of her family out of the will, while Quaker State heiress Eleanor Ritchey passed her $4.5 million fortune to her 150 dogs in Florida. When the last dog died, the remainder of the estate went to Auburn University for research into animal diseases.

But it’s not just dogs that can reap the benefits in a will. When animal lover Jonathan Jackson died in the 1800s, his will left money for the creation of a cat house, where the animals could enjoy the comforts of a dining hall, an auditorium to listen to live music in, bedrooms, an exercise room, and a specially-designed roof safe for climbing.

British singer Dusty Springfield also honored her cat in her last will and testament. The cat was to be fed imported baby food and serenaded with Springfield’s songs.

Romance can be the most exciting part of a will. To remind his wife how much he loved her after he died, comedian Jack Benny included in his will that a single long-stemmed red rose be delivered to her every day for the rest of her life. She lived 9 years beyond him and received over 3,000 flowers.

It wasn’t longtime boyfriend Ryan O’Neal who got Farrah Fawcett‘s estate when she died. He wasn’t even included in her will, but Gregory Lawrence Lott, an ex-boyfriend, was, and he received $100,000.

However, if the romance dies, the language of a will can look like German poet Heinrich Heine’s, who left his entire fortune to his wife, but with the catch that she had to remarry. His reason? According to the will: “Because then there will be at least one man to regret my death.”

Spending time with family can be either rewarding or taxing. Either way, you do it because you love them. But you may want to take better care of how you spend that time, since you may not get a clear idea of how they feel about you until it’s in writing.