"If I leave a man in my will ten talking elephants and a hundred winged horses, he cannot complain if the conditions partake of the slight eccentricity of the gift. He must not look a winged horse in the mouth." A character learns that a distant relative has passed and bequeathed to them a substantial fortune/estate
—G. K. Chesterton
. There is of course, a catch in the will that must be obeyed. Should it be violated, everything will pass to another person.
The catch is usually one of the following:
- The character must spend the night in the deceased's impossibly large mansion, which may or may not be a Haunted House. Either way, expect someone in the will to adopt a transparent ghost disguise and try to disqualify everyone else by scaring them off.
- The character is explicitly warned they must not harm "X" — which prompts "X" to move in with them and become a shameless moocher.
- The character must marry, either a specific person, or simply marry someone.
- The character simply must stay alive, because the will stipulates another will inherit all if anything "unforeseen" happens to the main character. This is usually a setup for said secondary character to try and kill off the primary beneficiary and Make It Look Like an Accident.
The catch is essentially a foreshadowed Reset Button
to quickly restore the status quo
, since making the characters of a show extremely wealthy will almost always kill the inherent drama or central premise of the show by implying that they could simply buy their way out
of whatever Zany Scheme
they got into.
Thus, unless an inheritance is part of the plot from the start, whatever the character inherits, they're going to blow it
by the end. They may do so by accident or purposely after deciding Celebrity Is Overrated
and no amount of wealth is worth the humiliating restrictions.
A common subversion is for the characters to not
blow the catch, but end up with nothing because the estate is heavily in debt and is promptly seized by a bank or the IRS for back taxes.
Another way to play it is to make the inheritance "worthless", as in a promised collection of "priceless" artwork turns out to be a pile of incomprehensible impressionist scribbles
that are only "priceless" in that no one could ever be found who actually wanted to buy
them. Or, it could simply be "worth-less", as in they get Great Uncle Beaureguard's $1 million fortune, but it's Confederate money. In Real Life
, it would actually be worth a pretty penny to collectors, but obviously no longer worth face value.
Another possible ending is for the supposedly dead relative to show up alive, and reveal that the whole affair was a Secret Test of Character
See Also: Never Win The Lottery
, Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie
, Scarpia Ultimatum
, Game Between Heirs
, and Silly Will
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Anime and Manga
- The (male) protagonist of Otome wa Boku ni Koishiteru is required to attend an all-girls' boarding school to inherit his grandfather's estate.
- In episode nineteen of Excel♥Saga, the heir to the gigantic company Atlas Group must go around the world in 80 hours in order to successfully inherit it. And planes are specifically off-limits.
- Which is just about impossible, given that this would require traveling at roughly 300 mph, which most land or sea vehicles can't do, and even those that can have to do it in controlled conditions where they won't be crashing into people who aren't driving vehicles that go that fast.
- A Japanese variant found in a number of anime series involves the heir to some sort of unwanted family business needing to fulfill the condition to avoid having to devote their life to a career that they hate, or an unwanted arranged marriage. Examples of this include:
- In Umineko no Naku Koro ni, the weird head of the wealthy Ushiromiya family leaves an enormous fortune in gold to anyone who can solve a strange riddle. The catch is that the riddle describes the ritual to revive the witch who supposedly gave him the gold, and someone's killing off everyone on the island in accordance with it.
- In Hanaukyō Maid Tai (both series), Ryuuka Jihiyou's grandfather told her she'd succeed him as the head of the Jihiyou family is she marries the head of the Hanaukyo family, Taro Hanaukyo. Despite not (initially) liking Taro, she has no qualms about fulfilling said condition. However, Taro told her he didn't know her enough to know if he'd like to be her husband or not. In order to get him to know her, she decides to become one of his several maids.
- Pokémon episode "Holy Matrimony" had Jessie, Meowth and the "twerps" learning that James came from a wealthy family. Not wanting the to marry the woman they wanted him to (who happens to look exactly like Jesse), he ran away from home and joined Team Rocket. In that episode, James' parents faked their deaths and their butler mentioned that, unless James gets married within the next 24 hours, their fortune would go to charity.
- He was actually fine with it but Jesse and Meowth typically pushed him back into it.
- The setup for Bibliotheca Mystica de Dantalian is this. The protagonist inherits a huge mansion and everything in it from his father; naturally, "everything in it" includes Dalian, who is a talented Doom Magnet (and also a bit of a pest).
- Captive Hearts: Suzuka's father made a will stating that, if he died and left no heirs, his estate should be split between his wife and Yoshimi (the butler). While Suzuka and her parents were all officially declared dead, Yoshimi got the whole money until Suzuka was found.
- In Kono Naka ni Hitori, Imouto ga Iru!, Shougo Mikadono's father, the leader of a large business conglomerate, has died and left in his will that he inherits the fortune left behind. The catch is that he has to go to a certain school to meet a suitable wife. While that in itself isn't a big deal, in the first episode a girl talks to him through a high window, and claims to be his biological sister. She says she's going to marry him, also attends the same school, and to make matters worse, she won't reveal who she is! So poor Shougo has to figure out which of the many girls clamoring over him is his sister, so as to avoid marrying her.
- One Silver Age Jimmy Olsen story used the Brewster's Millions plot with Jimmy being required to squander a certain amount of money in a limited amount of time, only for all of his attempts to do so just end up increasing his wealth.
- One Carl Barks Donald Duck story featured Donald learning he's going to inherit one thousand dollars from a relative he never heard about before if he earns another thousand dollars. However, it was a plot by Scrooge McDuck. Donald had previously located a sunken yacht belonging to Scrooge and offered to salvage it for fifty thousand dollars but Scrooge refused to pay more than two thousand dollars for it. After Scrooge sabotaged Donald's other attempts to earn that money, Donald accepted Scrooge's proposition. To further antagonize Donald, Scrooge saw to it that all conventional means to salvage the yacht would cost Donald three thousand dollars. Donald and his nephews then tried to outsmart Scrooge by buying several golf balls to float the yacht back to the surface. When Donald collected the inheritance, he also learned that it came from Scrooge. For a while, Donald believed he would keep the three thousand dollars but the company that manufactured the golf balls collected the money as payment for them and the collector told them that the company belongs to Scrooge.
- In another Carl Barks story, Scrooge had a pocket watch that happened to be a family heirloom. When one of his relatives died, he was required to present the pocket watch when claiming the inheritance. Scrooge then took it to Gyro Gearloose for repairs (The terms of the will also stated that the pocket watch must be working perfectly when presented to the executors of the will). Gyro noticed that a small stone that used to be encrusted to the watch seemed to be missing but it didn't worry Scrooge, who was used to the empty spot. The inheritance consisted solely of the stone.
- One story of The Cavern Clan featured Pitheco(Piteco) learning his uncle died and left him ten million bucks (Which was unexpected since Pitheco didn't even know his uncle became rich) on the condition that he gets married. He then decided to marry Tooga(Thuga), since the other options were not so attractive. When he was about to get married, the will's executors showed up to tell him that they found out his uncle had secretly got married and left a widow and three kids. Pitheco would only inherit twenty bucks, provided he still gets married. Pitheco promptly declared he'd never change his life for so little. Hurt by this, Tooga hit him and left in tears. The executors then gave Pitheco a letter where his uncle told him he made that will hoping Pitheco would get married and enjoy the life of a family man. Pitheco then commented that now he knew the biggest prize he lost.
- In Harry Potter fanfic "Harry Prongs Tatum", James Potter's father only allowed James to inherit a part of the Potter fortune. Most of it would only be released if James fulfilled several conditions. Since Voldemort didn't allow James to live long enough, Harry will inherit that money if he fulfills the conditions.
- "Heir of Prince": Eileen Prince (Severus Snape's mother) disappointed her family for marrying a muggle. Her father then left the Prince Family's fortune (and the title of Head of the Prince Family) to her son with the stipulation that, if Severus sires a son whose mother is a pureblood, the son will inherit once he becomes seventeen years old.
- A Naruto fanfic featured a villain who built a hotel in Konoha as cover for his activities. To make sure no guest would find out, he put up prices so high nobody would check in. When a ninja showed up to investigate, he (falsely) claimed he received an inheritance but has to set up a business to keep it. He claimed he put up high prices because he doesn't want to deal with guests and the will does not specify how good or bad the business must be.
- Brewster's Millions had Richard Pryor's title character inheriting $300 million only if he could spend $30 million within a single month - without accumulating anything that might be considered as an asset. Since it's a movie and not a series, there's no need for a Reset Button; he wins in the end.
- The Richard Pryor vehicle was the 8th film made from the story (originally a 1902 novel); the amount of the inheritance varies from version to version, as does the amount the hero must spend and the time limit. The reason for the odd condition also varies; in the original novel, it was because the hero had earlier inherited money from his grandfather, and the eccentric uncle who left the larger amount to him hated the grandfather; the condition was that the hero finish the year with none of what he had inherited from his grandfather, nor anything he had acquired using his grandfather's money.
- The reason for the condition in this particular film was to teach Brewster the value of money by forcing him to waste it until he no longer liked to do so. This seems like a risky idea as if it had worked too well he might have lost interest in the full inheritance itself.
- The Pryor version had a 'wimp clause' giving the hero one million dollars if he refused the challenge, which put him in the same situation as the novel, where the hero already had a million dollars and could have decided that the risk of becoming penniless by spending it away was too high.
- The Pryor version closed a lot of potential loopholes. He can hire anybody and pay them whatever he wants, but has to receive actual value in return. He can't give away more than 5% and he can't lose more than 5% gambling. (Which backfires, as one of his insane long-shot bets intended to just squander money ends up winning.) He can't destroy anything inherently valuable (no buying a dozen Picassos and using them as firewood, though he does buy a valuable stamp and use it as actual postage, getting it stamped as canceled). Ultimately, he decides on running a political campaign... encouraging voters to vote "None of the Above", since winning the actual office would be an asset, and both the other candidates were jackasses.
- In the rom-com The Bachelor, Jimmie Shannon will inherit his cynical, progeny-obsessed grandfather's $100 million if he gets married before his 30th birthday, which will arrive in less than 24 hours from the reading of the will. So that he should remain an admirable romantic lead and not motivated by greed, it is made clear that if he doesn't fulfill the condition, the sporting-goods factory where he works will be shut down and its assets sold off, throwing hundreds of people he knows out of work.
- Like Brewster's Millions, this is merely the most recent version of an often-filmed story; Buster Keaton used the same premise for Seven Chances in 1925, while The Three Stooges did so in their 1947 short Brideless Groom.
- This is the plot of the Rodney Dangerfield movie, Easy Money. Working-class hedonist Rodney's ultra-wealthy mother-in-law leaves all of her money to him—so long as he cleans up his act, giving up drugs, drinking, smoking, gambling, overeating and sleeping around. Since it's a movie, again, no need for the Reset Button, permitting him to succeed at meeting the challenge. Then his MIL turns up alive, saying that he gets to keep the money, anyway, so long as he remains on the straight and narrow; he ends up living a double-life, smoking and drinking while playing poker with his buddies in the basement.
- William Castle's "B" horror film House on Haunted Hill (1959) (1959) has the spending-the-night-in-a-haunted-house version. However, in this case the millionaire in question (played by Vincent Price) isn't dead or dying, just highly eccentric. And it's all part of an Evil Plan to murder his wife.
- Dave Coulier in the Christmas Movie The Family Holiday. His uncle leaves him ten million dollars on the condition that Dave must prove that he is married, has a family, and is working a legitimate job. He scams his best friend into getting him a job at a novelty toy factory, hires a brother/sister pair of runaways, and tricks a recently laid-off tutor into working for him but doesn't tell her that she's supposed to be his "wife" or the kids' "mom". Hilarity Ensues. Of course, Dave earns his inheritance. However, his uncle knew that Dave would lie to get the money, and so the excecutor of the estate—his uncle's 2nd wife, set up this elaborate ruse complete with social workers and cops, to make sure that Dave really cared about others. He is given the check but he rips it up. Only after he marries the tutor, gets the kids formally adopted, and keeps his job at the factory, his step-aunt gives him the money.
- The Buster Keaton movie Seven Chances (1925) has Buster inheriting seven million dollars if he marries before 7 p.m. on his 27th birthday — which just happens to be that very day...
- In The Richest Cat In The World, a millionaire named Oscar Kohlmeyer left his cat five million dollars and, in a failed attempt to discourage his nephew from contesting the will, he left the nephew twenty-five thousand dollars on the condition the nephew doesn't contest it. Unfortunately, the nephew was a pushover whose wife forced him to contest and blamed him for losing the twenty-thousand dollars.
- Kevin Manley, the protagonist of Kevin Of The North, was named his Grandfather's sole heir on the condition that he enters the yearly Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race and makes it to the finish line, all of it before one year has passed from his Grandfather's death. Interested on the Grandfather's gold, Clive Thornton, the lawyer who read the will, tried to make sure Kevin would fail. Kevin not only made it to the finish but also won the race.
- A Three Stooges short, Brideless Groom, featured Shemp trying to get married on short notice to satisfy the must-be-married clause in an inheritance. Hilarity Ensues when the ceremony is crashed in unison by his ex-girlfriends when they hear about the money.
- The Hudsucker Proxy: Mr. Hudsucker made a will leaving his shares of Hudsucker Industries (81% of the company) to the first person who replaces him as the company's CEO.
- Occurs in Laughter In Paradise (later remade in 1970 as Some Will, Some Won't). Wealthy, well-known practical joker Henry Russell dies, leaving considerable sums of money to four relatives...provided they commit acts completely contrary to their natures. A law-abider has to get himself arrested and jailed for 28 days, a snob has to find work as a maid and keep her job long enough to qualify, a womanizing cad has to marry the first single woman he meets, and a meek and submissive coward has to hold up the bank where he works with a toy pistol. All of them fulfilled their respective conditions but learned Henry Russell wasn't so wealthy and just hoped their experiences from this would change them for the better.
- Occurs in Disney Channel movie Rip Girls. A girl named Sydney Miller inherited a valuable piece of land in a Hawaiian island. According to the terms of the will, she must go to that island to claim her inheritance in person and stay in there for two whole weeks before being allowed to do anything with the land.
- A deleted scene in Young Frankenstein explains how Frederick inherited the estate of his very distant and disliked great-grandfather: said Baron Frankenstein had left his estate to his much closer relatives, naming each of them specificially, to be divided up evenly, unless Frederick had of his own choosing become a doctor and achieved some esteem in his field. As this had indeed happened, all the money and property went to him. The idea was that the Baron wanted to give his inheritance to someone who would have some chance of erasing the stain on his family name. Baron Frankenstein left instructions to prevent his will's contents from being disclosed before it's been 100 from when he was born, meaning Frederick had until then to fulfill the condition.
- The 1973 Black Comedy Arnold has a Gold Digger who marries the eponymous man— despite his being dead— and inherits his money as a stipend provided she stays by the corpse (embalmed, in an open coffin). Much of the film is taken up with Arnold's greedy relatives being killed off in... creative ways.
- Robert A. Heinlein's The Number of the Beast had a character named Zebadiah Carter. It turns out his grandfather Zachariah had left a large inheritance, with two conditions: (for the males, at least) They had to have a name starting with Z, and they had to hold assets equal to the amount they would receive. (So if you got wealthy, it'd make you twice as wealthy. If you didn't get wealthy, you got nothing)
- In Doorways in the Sand by Roger Zelazny, the protagonist's uncle has set up a fund which will pay for his living as long as he remains a full-time undergraduate—anything left from the fund after he graduates will be donated to the Irish Republican Army. The book opens when he's in his early thirties, having been in college for thirteen years.
- The 1969 British TV series Doctor in the House also has an eternal student like this.
- Last to Die by James Grippando features a millionaire who left his considerable fortune in trust with the stipulation that the last surviving member of a particular group of people would inherit the entire amount. He did it because he hated all of the prospective heirs and wanted them to fight one another for the money.
- The Isaac Asimov Black Widowers story "To the Barest". The founder of the Black Widowers, Ralph Ottur, dies and leaves a will requiring them to solve a pun riddle. They must determine which of them is the "barest", and that person gets $10,000. If they fail, the money will go to the American Nazi Party. You can read it here on Google Book Search.
- The kicker here is that Ralph Ottur hated the American Nazi Party. He picked them as the next-in-line heir to make sure the living Black Widowers put enough effort into solving the riddle.
- One Lord Peter Wimsey story turned on a will by which The Unfavorite son inherited until his father was buried, whereupon it would all pass to the other son. Friends of The Unfavorite stole the body to prevent burial, Lord Peter discovers the will in a book, family disputes erupt, and the final touch is Lord Peter's deducing that from the water stain in the book but not the will, that the other son had hidden the will so The Unfavorite would not find out about the condition in time.
- Another Peter Wimsey story featured an old man who disapproved of his niece's seriousness and so wrote a will disinheriting her unless she solved a crossword puzzle to find the location of his final will leaving everything to her.
- An aversion in The Cat Who... mystery novel series: Qwilleran must live in a small town for five years to get the money, right after he finally gets a good job as an investigative reporter in the big city. That books ends on a cliffhanger of sorts. Next book, he's living large in the small town.
- Played dead serious in Iron Fist, where one of the provisions of Phanan's will is that Face has to get his scar removed.
- Also, interestingly enough, it is explained in complete detail why this is necessary.
- One of O. Henry's stories featured a young man addicted to gambling who was granted his inheritance on the condition that he not gamble for a set period. On the last day of his abstinence, he learns that the inheritance will instead go to a pretty young female relative should he fail. Of course, his next action is to go into the lawyer's office and solemnly proclaim that he just finished betting on the horses and that he was yielding the inheritance.
- In the Discworld novel Making Money, Mrs. Lavish, the primary stakeholder of the Royal Bank of Ankh-Morpork dies and leaves all her shares to her dog, Mr. Fusspot - and leaves the dog to Moist von Lipwig, with a retainer of ten thousand dollars a year "for being so kind as to look after her poor little doggie" - oh, and if the dog dies in any untoward way, a contract with the Guild of Assassin's on Moist's life immediately goes into effect. This wouldn't be such a big deal if not for the fact that Mrs. Lavish's horrible stepchildren inherit the shares if Mr. Fusspot dies...
- There's another advantage - the Assassin's Guild will not take a second contract out on someone, technically granting Moist some slight degree of safety. Also, no self-respecting Assassin would even consider accepting a contract on a dog, so Mr. Fusspot is safe on that end, too.
- Moving Pictures possibly as a reference to Doorways in the Sand (see above). Victor is left a large yearly sum on the condition that he enters the Unseen University to become a wizard and never scores under 80% on his exams, to ensure that he actually tries. However Victor very carefully scores above 80 but too low to pass, to avoid having to deal with the stress and danger of being a full wizard. The wizards eventually catch on (the time he passed and told the university he'd actually got a question wrong was a hint), and give him an exam with only one question: What is your name?
- It's revealed in one of the Edgar & Ellen books that Augustus Nod, the founder of Nod's Limbs, left his entire fortune to whoever finds the original limbs of the statue erected to him. ( Nod stole them himself.) They're eventually found by Edgar and Ellen, who will inherit it once he dies.
- Sidney Sheldon book Bloodline features a pharmaceutical company named Roffe & Sons, which founder saw to it that his heirs wouldn't be able to sell their shares of the company unless all of them agreed to do it.
- Brewster's Millions: Montgomery Brewster must be penniless by the day he becomes 28 years old in order to inherit his uncle James T. Sedgwick's seven-million-dollar estate. And he can't simply give away whatever he had before. Even while attempting to become penniless, Montgomery must show some business skills. Donations to charity mustn't go far beyond the usually donated by other rich people. It doesn't help things that, by the time Montgomery Brewster was informed of his uncle's death and wealth, it was a little less than one year from the deadline and he had already inherited one million dollars from his paternal grandfather Edwin P. Brewster, who was the reason of Uncle James' unusual set of conditions. James Sedgwick hated Edwin Brewster to the point of not wanting his heir to have anything that came from Edwin in any way. This was also the reason Sedgwick wouldn't allow his nephew to simply donate Edwin's inheritance away: he believed Edwin Brewster would be remembered and praised for this.
- One of the short stories in Steve Aylett's Crime Studio is based around and plays with this: a venerable spinster with a significant fortune dies, and several of Beerlight's criminal artistes are known to be (potential) beneficiaries of her will. In the run-up to the will being read, all of them, independently, break into her lawyer's offices and alter the will in their favour. The lawyer sees through all the forgeries and alterations with ease (one was written in crayon), and reads the original, unaltered version: everyone was verbally abused, and her entire estate was to be shared equally between any beneficiaries still alive after a week from the reading. A large battle ensues; by the time the week is up, none of the named beneficiaries has died, and the lawyer has absconded with everything, and not as legal fees.
- The Dandee Diamond Mystery: The benefactor leaves the diamond to whoever deserves it the most. As this is an interactive book, it has several endings. Some of them have a note with the diamond stating the one who found it was the one who deserved it the most. One states the benefactor's parrot deserves the diamond. One shows that the benefactor faked his death to see how far his relatives would go for the diamond and he stated he's the only one who deserves the diamond. The other endings simply don't have it stated.
- In the Sherlock Holmes story "The Three Garridebs", a will stipulates that a man with the extremely rare surname Garrideb will inherit a property provided that he can find two other people with the same surname. The property will be split between the three of them. However, just two Garridebs would get nothing. The trope is subverted when it turns out that the villain made the entire thing up.
- In the Harlequin novel Will and a Way by Nora Roberts, the two main characters are cousins (though not by blood, of course) who have never gotten along. When an extremely wealthy and beloved great uncle of theirs dies he leaves them everything, because they were the only ones in the family who ever cared about him before he died. The only condition is that they have to live together in his house for six months and try to get along. If they fail, his estate will be evenly divided upon the rest of the family, who are all very unpleasant people. The uncle's main goal with this, apart from making sure his estate was in good hands, was of course to get them together.
- In the teen novel The V Club, a wealthy woman leaves money that would provide a full scholarship to one lucky high school student, on the condition that this student be "pure," which everyone interprets as "must be a virgin." (Neither the deceased woman herself nor her attorney specified what exactly she meant by "pure;" everyone just assumed she meant virginal.) The students who are vying for the scholarship join a club (and losing one's virginity means being kicked out), and take a pledge to abstain from sex. Not everyone competing for the scholarship actually is a virgin, however.
- Kiki Strike: Ananka received an inheritance she's not allowed to spend on anything other than educational fees.
Live Action TV
- Live-action variant: the one-off Fast Show special "Ted and Ralph" concerned a previously-unknown legal stipulation coming to light that Ralph will lose his entire fortune if he is unmarried by a certain age (which, of course, is almost upon them). The variation here is that Ralph already had the vast wealth, and the episode detailed his attempts to not lose it.
- Parodied in an episode of Muppets Tonight in which the guest star's character will inherit a "fortune" of "eighty-five dollars" provided that he is married to a beautiful woman. Miss Piggy happens to walk in the door at that point...
- Another sketch, featuring 'America's fattest family' Tubman learns that his aunt has died and left him an actual fortune- on the stipulation that he loses weight. Cue Tubman trying to burn off pounds in seconds, destroying his exercise equipment and nearly himself in the process. When the dust settles, he gets another letter saying his aunt has recovered! Apparently, she's very stubborn...
- It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia - Dennis & Dee's mother dies and leaves Dennis her mansion under the condition that their assumed father Frank never be allowed on the property. But because all the money was left to Dennis & Dee's biological father Bruce, Dee and Frank try to scheme him out of it. He sees through their scheme immediately, and the resultant game of Zany Scheme Chicken eventually results in Frank ending up at the mansion.
- Rose on The Golden Girls was bequeathed $100,000 to take care of her late uncle's favorite pig for the rest of his (the pig's) life. When the pig fell ill, the vet believed he was just homesick, so the girls gave up the money and passed him on to another relative back in Minnesota, only to have the pig die of old age 36 hours later.
- On The Drew Carey Show, the episode "Drew's Inheritance" saw his Uncle Cecil setting the prerequisite of Drew getting married in 72 hours from the reading of the will, purely because in life he was a big fan of movie plots in general. He and Kate would have gotten away with either a fake marriage or a real one, if it weren't for their two meddling idiot-friends.
- Father Ted - Father Jack has left IR£500,000 to Ted & Dougal providing they spend the night before the funeral with Jack, owing to Jack's fear of being buried alive. Turns out Jack was justified in his fear as he was Not Quite Dead. Although, he could have fooled a lot of people due to lack of pulse, Rigor Mortis, decomposition... There was no guarantee that the Reset Button would be pressed as it was broadcast as the last of that series and was filmed as the pilot. This could count as a subversion as it wasn't the 'one condition' that Ted & Dougal failed on, it was the 'priority condiditon': the author wasn't dead!
- After Aunt Fran dies on Mama's Family, Thelma learns that she possessed a secret fortune, which she has willed to Thelma. The catch? The notoriously cantankerous Thelma must avoid losing her temper for two weeks, or else the money will go to Fran's favorite charity.
- The classic Twilight Zone episode "The Masks" has a dying millionaire inviting his greedy relatives to a Mardi Gras party and stipulating that in order to inherit his money, each will have to don a hideously grotesque mask revealing his or her true character. Despite some moaning and groaning, the family makes it through the night. Only to discover that the masks have warped their faces to be perfect replicas of the masks, leaving them very rich but having to live in shadow for the rest of their lives.
- Another Twilight Zone example: in the "Uncle Simon" episode, his niece (who had been taking care of him and grown to resent his gruff behavior towards her) was named sole beneficiary of his large estate - with the condition that she must look after his last project: a robot who is more or less Uncle Simon reincarnate.
- After one of Al's relatives died on Married... with Children, his will stated that whoever bears a baby boy (in wedlock) and names it after him will get half a million dollars. Unfortunately for Al, Peggy was taking birth control behind his back and the inheritance goes to the lawyer and Al's imprisoned relative. Al got his revenge by altering the results of a pregnancy test to trick Peggy into thinking she got pregnant anyway. He claimed half a million dollars wouldn't pay that fun.
- Casseta&Planeta segment "O Diário de Um Macho" (A Macho Man's Diary) had an episode where the protagonist (Carlos Maçaranduba) and his twin brother learned their father left his fortune to the first one of them to get married. The protagonist's brother got the inheritance.
- One sketch of Os Trapalhões featured a woman who could only claim the inheritance her Grandfather left her if her husband were with her while she claimed it. Because he was missing and the lawyer knows what he looks like, she tried to deceive the lawyer with someone who looks like her husband.
- In Brazilian soap-opera "Caras e Bocas", the founder of a prosperous diamond-mining company left 31% of the company's shares to his granddaughter on the condition that she got married and 10% to whoever she marries. He also stipulated that, if she never got married, the 10% would go to her illegitimate daughter.
- In one episode of El Chapulín Colorado, a man and his wife went to his late grandfather's house because there was a clause in the will stating that he must spend a night there to claim it. The grandfather had a butler and a maid, both of whom tried to scare away the couple to get the house. The plan failed but the couple, feeling they didn't need the house, let the butler and the maid keep it.
- In one episode of The Nanny, Maxwell Sheffield learned that his brother Nigel bought a nightclub. Because of that, Maxwell commented that Nigel shouldn't have been allowed to use his inheritance before becoming 30 years old. Overhearing this, Maxwell's son Brighton becomes sad at the prospect of not receiving his inheritance before becoming 30 years old. To comfort him, Fran pointed out that, once he's 30 years old, he'll be rich while, once she's 30 years old, she'll be 40.
- In Community episode Community S 3 E 20 Digital Estate Planning, Pierce Hawthorne and seven of his friends had to play and win a multiplayer game developed by his father or Pierce would lose the inheritance. Whoever wins gets the entire fortune, even if it isn't Pierce. The group subverts the dead man's agenda by agreeing that whoever wins will just hand it over to Pierce of course. However, since Pierce only has six friends that leaves an empty seat for his late father's personal assistant, Gilbert Lawson, to sneak into the game with intent of stealing the inheritance (because he was secretly Pierce's illegitimate, mixed-race, half-brother). Unfortunately for Gilbert, their father anticipated this turn of events and prepared an additional clause just for him, requiring that he signs a document agreeing not to reveal he's Cornelius Hawthorne's son. If Lawson doesn't, it goes back to Pierce anyway. In the end, Pierce and his half-brother share the fortune and discover they are happy to be brothers.
- Pierce leaves millions of dollars to Troy on the condition that he circumnavigate the globe in his yacht. Additionally, all of the study group is required to answer a series of questions while hooked up to lie detectors to receive their part of the inheritance without knowing what they'll receive, ostensibly to ensure they had no part in his death.
- Inverted in The Bleak Old Shop Of Stuff, where Jederington desperately tries to fulfill the one condition that will prevent him being his grandfather's heir, since the inheritence is a huge debt.
- In Brazilian soap opera "Guerra dos Sexos", Otávio and his cousin Charlô inherited a mansion and a store chain from their Uncle Enrico on the condition they do not sell or otherwise negotiate the mansion or the store chain unless all parties involved are family, which basically forced Charlô and Otávio to become business partners. The problem: Charlô and Otávio were Kissing Cousins until it ended in an un-friendly way. Decades later, a remake of the soap opera has been made. Instead of inheriting from Uncle Enrico, they inherited from an Uncle and an Aunt portrayed by the actor and the actress who portrayed Otávio and Charlô in the original soap opera. The condition is the same and Charlô commented about their Uncle and Aunt being imposed that from their Uncle Enrico.
- The video for "Are You Ready For Freddy" by the Fat Boys begins with Prince Markie Dee inheriting a mansion from his Uncle Frederick (a.k.a. Freddy Krueger) on the condition that he spend one one night inside the building.
- The musical Lucky Stiff focuses on Harry Witherspoon, an English shoe salesman who will inherit six million if he meets the terms of his dead uncle's will. Of course, the terms aren't ordinary: Harry must take his dead uncle's preserved corpse around Monte Carlo for a week. And if Harry fails to get one little condition right, the money defaults to his uncle's favorite charity.
- In The Cat and the Canary, a codicil in Cyrus West's will stipulates that another stands to inherit if the heir "be proved of unsound mind." The identity of the next heir is kept secret, which leaves it a mystery just who is determined to drive the favored heir insane.
- A rich Toronto lawyer, financier and practical joker named Charles Vance Millar, wrote in his will that he wanted the bulk of his estate to be given to the Toronto woman who birthed the most legitimate children in the 10 years after his death. The money he left was well invested and grew significantly over the ten years. During the same time, the Great Depression hit, which made a lot of people more desperate for money. This sparked The Great Stork Derby that went the full length of time with 4 winners and two runners up despite frantic efforts to kill the will in the courts.
- That's not the end of it, he also bequeathed joint possession of his summer cottage to three men who loathed each other, and a very profitable Catholic distillery to several prominent temperance advocates in the Orange Order.
- The Rule Against Perpetuities exists in the UK, the US and other countries that inherited the Common Law. In its most common form, it simply states "No conditional bequest is valid unless it must vest, if at all, within a life in being plus 21 years." It works to prevent somebody from controlling their assets from beyond the grave forever (i.e. "in perpetuity"). Certain relevant reasonable-but-ridiculous legal illustrations showing why you don't want to be in arms reach include the "fertile octogenarian" and the "unborn widow" rules. The will in the former leaves land to person A, aged 85 and childless, for her life, then to the first of her natural born children to reach age 25; since the children are not extant at the time of the will it is possible for the condition to be unfulfilled for 21 years, the bequest to the unborn children is invalid and the old lady inherits the land absolutely. The will in the latter leaves the property to person A for life, then their widow for life, and then any of their children then still living (at the time of the widow's death). In this case, the condition for the last part doesn't need to activate within 21 years of the will activating (i.e. the widow lives more than 21 years), so the will could be rendered invalid. Alternately, A might not be married, in which case there is no person who could become his widow, or A might divorce and remarry, in which case the widow at the time the will activates is not the widow referred to by the person who wrote the original will. The will might not prescribe A's children still living and instead simply refer to A's children, in which case it would refer to those children alive at the time of the will's activation and still be valid.
- Some jurisdictions specify that if a deceased person is named as the heir, and the will does not contain a legitimate second-to-die clause, the named heir's children stand to inherit that property. So, if A had three children, and one of those children died before A, leaving two children of his own, A's two surviving children would each get 1/3 of the estate, while the two grandchildren by the deceased sibling would each get 1/6.
- Many U.S. jurisdictions now take a "wait and see" approach; if the will vests or fails within 90 years of the descendant's death, it's valid, even if a circumstance could have arisen (but didn't) that would have made the waiting period longer. Incidentally, the Rule Against Perpetuities applies not only to bequeathments in wills, but also to property placed into a Trust (including a trust created while the Grantor was still alive).
- There is a case in California involving legal malpractice due to a lawyer's failure to apprehend the rule against perpetuities. The California high court ruled that "no reasonable lawyer" can understand the rule. To prove the complexity and often inanity of the rule, the above description isn't entirely correct. Technically, the A > Widow > Widow's Child setup is valid, since the estate remains in possessory interest of a living person throughout (it goes to A, then immediately to widow, then immediately to widow's child at whatever age that person may be). The rule makes a distinction between future interest and present possessory interest that isn't immediately obvious even to people who studied it.
- In China, a sanitation worker named Yu Youzhen became wealthy when the Government compensated her and her husband after seizing their land for development. In order to set an example for her children, she kept working and made it clear to them (and to the reporter who interviewed her) they must follow her example about not being idle or they won't inherit.