Eccentric Estates: The Great Stork Derby

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    At first glance, wills and estate planning can seem dull. We don’t blame you for thinking that, but we have some stories that might just change your mind.

    Join us for Eccentric Estates as we cover famous and fascinating wills in history that will make estate planning a bit more… fun?

    This week, we’re sharing the story of Charles Vance Millar. Charles was a prominent Toronto lawyer and financier. He died on October 31, 1926 with an estate worth $1M. Today, his estate would have been worth around $14M. 

    He didn’t have a spouse or any apparent heirs. So Charles made some bizarre bequests.

    Charles the jokester

    Typically, we see many people in similar circumstances pass their assets on to charity or a close friend. But not Charles!

    Charles had a sense of humour and decided to put a comedic spin on his will. He gifted his shares in a Catholic-owned beer company to Protestant ministers. He also gifted his property in Jamaica to three fellow lawyers. Well that sounds nice right? Except the three lawyers hated each other. The catch was that they had to live in the property together, and if any of them sold, the proceeds would be distributed as a charitable contribution to the City of Kingston in Jamaica.

    But those aren’t the only clauses he included...

    Ready, Set … Baby??

    Charles’ most controversial clause was that the remainder of his fortune was to be given to the woman in Toronto who gave birth to the most children in a 10-year period. Despite challenges from relatives and Ontario’s Attorney General, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the will, and it became known as The Great Stork Derby.

    It made headlines around the world, and ultimately four women received the equivalent of $2 million each for having nine children in 10 years. 

    The story of Charles’ will is so unique that in 2002, a movie was made to tell the story of his estate and the baby craze that followed.

    What Did We Learn?

    This story is nothing short of wild. Some people can get very creative with their estate and how they’d like to pass on their assets. There’s nothing stopping anyone from adding silly or unique clauses to their wills in Canada. However, your wishes can’t be illegal and have to actually be possible (ie. You likely can’t say you want your home to be relocated to the moon before your niece can inherit it)!

    While you can add these clauses, it’s much more common to leave a gift to charity, friends, or other family members if you don’t have children or a spouse. In fact, a gift to a charity in your will is one of the best ways to leave a positive legacy. You don’t even need to be wealthy like Charles. Many organizations are supported by legacy gifting and your gift can make a huge difference.If you do happen to have other beneficiaries, legacy giving also provides valuable tax incentives to maximize the value of your residual estate.

    It’s also worth noting that the vacation home in Jamaica had actually been sold by Charles prior to his death. So it wasn’t actually part of his estate when he passed. Based on Canadian laws now, this means that the three lawyers who were gifted the home were likely not left anything at all. It’s important to know that specific bequests in your will should be updated when you sell them. Otherwise, your loved ones may not be entitled to anything else, since there is no option to ‘replace’ the gift with something else in your estate.

    Regardless of what you’d like to do with your estate, the most important first step is making a will. While Willful can’t help you create complex clauses like the ones Charles included, we can certainly help you leave specific gifts and bequests to charities and loved ones. Without a will, your estate will default to provincial regulations and it won’t necessarily be what you would have wanted.

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