As head of a company that helps people facing financial difficulties, Jim Angleton gets to know a lot about how his clients lived-and how they want to die. One wanted the ashes of his two dogs to be with him in his coffin. He wanted his Rolex watch to be set for the exact time he was born so he could "check out" at the same time. And he wanted a photograph of his girlfriend placed in a sealed envelope-so his wife wouldn't see it-and then put in the pocket of his pants, so he could depart this world for the next with her in his hip pocket.
Angleton says another client recorded two videos prior to his death: one of him saying goodbye to his friends, which he wanted to be rolling at his funeral, and another of him reading his will aloud because he did not trust attorneys. And he wanted to make sure his fourth wife knew that he really did leave her out of the will.
"He actually yells at her in the video," says Angleton, president of Aegis FinServ Corp., a Miami-based financial cosulting firm.
Some can be quite extravagant. One estate attorney has a client who wants all of her assets and liabilities written down on pieces of paper that are then to be let loose to blow around an air chamber. Her family members are then to go inside the chamber and grab the pieces of paper, and they can keep as many of the assets-and the liabilities-as they can grab. Another woman wants to give all of her real estate and cash to charity, but she wants a game show held just after her memorial service, and friends who can correctly answer questions about her life can keep some of the personal artifacts she's collected over the years as a missionary. She's already written the questions and answers.
It's no surprise people want to go out with a bang. It may be their last act on earth, so why not make it memorable. The problem is when people don't want to let go after the funeral, and they put provisions in their wills and trusts that attempt to control how their children and spouses behave for years to come. These provisions, which make the beneficiaries perform some act or behave some way before they can receive their inheritance, are becoming increasingly popular, estate attorneys say.
The most common thing to do is to keep money in a trust for grandchildren for, say, 10 years, and they can only receive the money if they undergo drug testing for a period of time. If they're clean, they get the money. If they're not, they must wait a certain number of years.
Some wills stipulate that children or grandchildren marry within their cultural group or faith. Others are more concerned about school, and they go from the vague-the money must be used for school-to the specific-the money must be used on this particular school.
"I've had some wills that say the money must be spent on a science or engineering degree. It can't be a liberal arts degree. Or it can't be a trade school. Or a religious school," says Cloyd E. Havens II, an estate attorney in Glendora, Calif. "The people who write wills like that are trying to make some of the same decisions after death that they would have in life."
More recently, Havens says he's seeing wealth generators stipulate that their children or grandchildren hold on to their non-monetary assets, like their residence, income property or their business. They believe they knew just what to acquire and have little faith that their children will be as wise. Havens says he even has one client who insists that his children keep his stock portfolio exactly as it is. He believes he picked the perfect set of stocks, Havens says.
How wealthy the individuals are doesn't matter. Some of the most controlling people have very little. But without much money, their demands often go unheeded.
"They want to make people do what they want, and they've got $10,000 to make it happen. That's their entire estate. And then you have people with multiple millions, and they think, 'Nobody told me how to earn it. I'm not going to tell people how to spend it,' " Havens says.