Rowan Pelling: Ashes to ashes, cash to the cat...

The distribution of a person's worldly goods is their last opportunity to have a really great laugh

Share

"What will survive of us is love," wrote Larkin in a rare sentimental mood. The late Countdown host Richard Whiteley certainly left a lot of hot lovin' in his wake, judging by a will that sounds as if it should have been read aloud to a Barry White album. He left a flat in Leeds to former long-term love Jeni Cropper, a house in Chiswick and half his pension to his lovechild James, son of former lover Lesley Ebbetts, and a house in the Yorkshire Dales and the other half of his pension to his partner of 11 years, Kathryn Apanowicz. He also left a cottage to his niece and a legacy to his old school, Giggleswick. Nobody was forgotten and every award seemed generous yet proportionate. It wasn't only love that transcended the grave, but Whiteley's own particular brand of utterly smashing niceness.

But surely that's what drawing up a will is all about - the deceased making a final, crafty play for the living's attention, thus ensuring some essential residue of their existence lingers in the ether as long as there's someone around to honour - or resent - them. I'm just not sure how often that residue is love; it seems to me that all depends upon how loving and loveable you are. Take the late Ted Heath, for example. He was not the sort of man to teach the world to sing or to scatter it with rose petals. If a man in black was seen abseiling down your house, the least likely solution to that conundrum was: "It's just Ted Heath dropping off a box of Milk Tray." What will survive of him is obduracy, self-regard, a paragraph in the history of the EEC, and the Sir Edward Heath Charitable Foundation at his old home Arundells in Salisbury. It takes a rare breed of man to ponder a £5m fortune in a world of starving orphans, three-legged donkeys and imminent eco- disaster and decide, on balance, that the best use of those funds after your demise is to establish a museum dedicated to yourself - especially when you're not Winston Churchill, Picasso or Charles Dickens. Can you really imagine saying brightly to the kids, "I know what, let's go to the Ted Heath museum today!"?

Regrettably few people exploit their last will and testament to its full provocative potential, and many never write one at all. Quite apart from the almighty inconvenience that dying intestate causes your family, you lose your final chance to tease those you love or loathe from beyond the grave. All the best wills should have one tremendous surprise.

I think we all know the kind of thing I'm talking about: your collection of stuffed owls dispatched to a hitherto unknown second family in Hemel Hempstead; a lock of your pubic hair bequeathed to the village butcher; your sexually explicit love letters to be sent to Richard and Judy. My husband wants to dispatch a uniquely hideous pastel-toned print of a hippo we were once given to his old Oxford College, to be known as "The AFS MacKinnon Bequest". Either that, or bequeath it to John Prescott, "Dear Sir, as some small token of the esteem in which I hold your planning acumen."

It is, of course, vital that you make it clear to your dependents that you might change your will at the drop of a hat. This should prevent them carting you off to the Sunny Farm Care Home at the first sign of drool spilling down your chin. An old boyfriend of mine was cut out of his aged aunt's will at the last moment when she decided that his lack of visits meant that the RSPB deserved her millions more than he did. He said he could never look kindly upon a sparrow again. Mind you, he learnt the art of wind-up at the master's knee. For the two years I was with him, he repeatedly mentioned that his will was still made out to his beautiful but barking former fiancée. I was incensed by the idea that he could be knocked down by the 38 bus and she would get the Hockney and the Notting Hill love-pad.

Now I've reached an age myself where I have a heavily mortgaged house, a life-insurance policy and a few scrappy possessions to bequeath, and I want to squeeze maximum amusement from the process. I intend to include detailed instructions for six of my closest woman friends to indulge in a version of Supermarket Sweep with my vast clothing and shoe collection. They will have to stand on the doorstep of the house while my husband fires a starting pistol and claw their way up the narrow staircase for the ultimate all-female wrestling scenario. I will leave a small annuity to the patrons of the Academy Club in London to toast my name in champagne on the anniversary of my demise. And I want my knickers packed in lavender and posted to George Clooney. Finally, I was going to leave all my money to my Maine Coon cat Wavell, the friendliest and most eccentric beast I ever owned. Alas, he was mown down in the small hours of last Saturday morning. All that survives of him are clumps of soft ginger hair sprinkled like thistledown across my desk.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Administrator is requ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - Commercial Vehicles - OTE £40,000

£12000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and growth of ...

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - Sheffield - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer position with a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Leader - Plasma Processing

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Operations Leader is required to join a lea...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Most powerful woman in British politics

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
All the major parties are under pressure from sceptical voters to spell out their tax and spending plans  

Yet again, the economy is the battleground on which the election will be fought

Patrick Diamond
Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders