American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
March 31, 2001
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- After the tributes and testimony, a few weeks beyond the traditional end of any public mourning for adistinguished member of the dearly departed, we might come across some scant reference to the disposition of the Last Will and Testament to provide for the distribution of one's worldly goods. Unless the will is contested over the deceased's intention, we never hear of it again.
Unless, of course, you're curious. And, I am curious. Whatever happened to President Kennedy's collection of scrimshaw, those carvings of whale ivory made by whalemen in the 18th and 19th centuries? In reading his will, a public record, I learned John F. Kennedy, Jr. planned to leave the bulk of his holdings to his wife, Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy, or their children. =
But John and Carolyn died together in a plane crash, without leaving any children. Therefore, his property goes to the children of his sister, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg. Thebulk of his estate is left to the beneficiaries of a trust heestablished in 1983. Kennedy also left the scrimshaw, or carved whale ivory, set once owned by his father to nephew John B.K. Schlossberg. Once I went into Public Records, I learned Doris Duke put her name and money into more foundations than any of us ever knew -- and still the tobacco heiress had a $1.2 billion estate that was the subjectof much litigation. A New York judge ordered the removal of twoco-executors of Doris Duke'= s estate.
The court found that Duke'sbutler, Bernard Lafferty, was squandering her estate to support his "profligate life style" and that United States Trust Company failed to slow down Lafferty's spending.
Since their appointment by the surrogate court, Alexander Forger and Morgan Guaranty Trust Company of New York have served as temporary administrators in this difficult matter topreserve the assets of the Duke estate.
Where did I see that name, Alexander Forger? Ah, yes,in reading the Last Will and Testament of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, I read: "I give and bequeath to my friend ALEXANDER D. FORGER, if he survives me, my copy of John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address signed by Robert Frost if owned by me at the time of my death." Ah, yes. He wa sa trustee of her estate, along with Maurice Templesman. Now, there's alawyer with a briefcase!
Interesting what we can read into these last wills and testaments. Taking testament to mean "bearing witness," then we know tha tJoe DiMaggio bore witness to the fact his grandchildren might not be agreeable. When he left his household goods to the girls, he said: "My granddaughter's issue shall divide such property among themselves amicably if able to do so; otherwise, my Personal Representative shall make the division in any manner deemed advisable, and the decisions of my Personal Representative shall be final and binding on all concerned." Ballgame!
In between the wishes spoken in legalese comes an occasional zinger, as when Joe DiMaggio got past all of the other bequests in his will, and finally announced leaving the remaining 45% ofthe estate, in Trust, to his only son, Joe, Jr. "In addition, my Trustee may distribute to or for the benefit of my son, from his Trust, so much of the principal of the Trust as may be needed for his proper maintenance, support, health and welfare. Said distribution shall be at the sole and absolute discretion of my Trustee and any such distributionmade by my Trustee shall be liable only for their acts or gross negligence and willful misconduct. The decision of my Trustee shall NOT be questioned by any beneficiary."
There must be a story there.
Poor little Marilyn Monroe. She gained her fame initially wearing no clothes at all, and later, spilling out of the ones she wore. In her Last Will and Testament she had little more to bequeath than her clothes.
It says in part: "I give and bequeath all of my ...clothing to LEE STRASBERG, or if he should predecease me, then to my Executor hereinafter named, it being my desire that he distribute these, in his sole discretion, among my friends, colleagues and those to whom I am devoted." The money remaining after her suicide went for the lifetime care of her institutionalized mother, Gladys Baker.
Not surprisingly, and although the will was written before she and Prince Charles were divorced, Princess Diana left very specific instructions about her children. After indicating that she wished to be buried, she said: "Should any child of mine be under age at the date of the death of the survivor of myself and my husband I appoint my mother and my brother Earl Spencer to be the guardians of that child and I express the wish that should I predecease my husband he will consult with my mother with regard to the upbringing education and welfare ofour children."
It was Princess Diana's wishes being carried out when, at thetime, many of us felt her brother Earl Spencer was being an opportunist,taking the lead, delivering the eulogy. The Public Record alters thatview and we see not even the Qu= een of England, should she have dared to,could erase a line of Diana's wishes.
Walt Disney was very precise. As a California resident where community property is the law, he wrote: "It is my intention to dispose by this Will of my one-half (1/2) of the community property of my wife and myself and of all my separate property, if any. I do not undertake to dispose of my wife's one-half (1/2) of our community property."
Finally, let's read between the lines in old Ben Franklin's will: "I, Benjamin Franklin, of Philadelphia, printer, late Minister Plenipotentiary from the United States of America to the Court of France, now President of the State of Pennsylvania, do make and declare my last will and testament as follows:
"To my son, William Franklin, late Governor of the Jerseys, I give and devise all the lands I hold or have a right to, in the province of Nova Scotia, to hold to him, his heirs, and assigns forever. I also give to him all my books and papers, which he has in his possession, and all debts standing against him on my account books, willing that n opayment for, nor restitution of, the same, be required of him by my executors. The part he acted against me in the late war, which is of public notoriety, will account for my leaving him no more of an estate he endeavoured to deprive me of."