Estate Planning: The Fun and the Factual ​

Very few people enjoy estate planning. After all, who wants to think about why you need an estate plan in the first place? But as with many human endeavors, estate planning does have a lighter side. Here are five fun facts from Holm & O’Hara LLP lead Trusts & Estates Partner Chaya Biskin-Sitko, who compiled them based on questions from clients. If you would like to take a more serious look at estate planning, click here for our latest Trusts & Estates Update noting changes in federal, New York and Connecticut law. 

1) Will Power. Intestacy is the condition of the estate of a person who dies without having made a valid will or other binding declaration. Absent a valid will, a decedent’s worldly possession will pass to his living kin, pursuant to state statute in New York. Sonny Bono, Kurt Cobain, John Denver, Chris Farley, Howard Hughes, and Martin Luther King Jr. are all examples of well-known Americans who died intestate. 

2) 1066 and All That. The Last Will and Testament of Frederica Evelyn Stilwell Cook (who was married to the son of the famous explorer) is thought to be the longest will ever filed for probate. The will was 1066 pages (95,940 words) and occupied four gilt-edged, leather-bound volumes. It was entered into probate at Somerset House, the-then home of the Principal Probate Registry in London, on November 2, 1925. 

3) Set in Stone. The oldest known will was found in a tomb excavation in Kahun, Egypt, and dates back to 2500 B.C. The deceased left all his property to his wife, Teta. He also included some stipulations, such as not pulling down certain houses. It was witnessed by two scribes, and was, according to The New York Times, “shockingly modern.” 

4) Habeas Corpses. Ever wonder what, exactly, is the legal status of a dead body? Clearly, it’s not the same as that of a breathing person. But it cannot be property, either. This can pose some sticky questions when it’s time to dispose of someone’s earthly remains. For this reason, some states have enacted a quasi-property right – usually called “the right of sepulcher” – for the limited purpose of determining custody of the body for burial. As part of an estate plan, an individual executes a form designating an agent for funeral arrangements. Like intestacy, the lack of such designation can create some real problems. Some years ago, the death of Vicki Lynn Marshall (a/k/a Anna Nicole Smith) brought furious litigation over the question of who had the right of sepulcher, since she had not legally designated an agent. Things went back and forth between Smith’s mother and the legal guardian for her surviving child before the matter – and Smith – was finally laid to rest. 

5) Food for Thought. With the aid of science, a number of creative burial options have emerged in recent years. Promession is an environmentally-friendly method used to dispose of a corpse by turning it into fertilizer. The body is frozen using liquid nitrogen and shattered into an organic powder. The powdered remains are then given a shallow burial in the topsoil, and will eventually decompose into compost, providing nourishment for plant life. 

Burial Options


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