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Game Between Heirs

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Bob is dead. His potential heirs gather after his funeral. Who will inherit his possessions? The will is opened, but...there's no clear heir.

This trope occurs when the will of the deceased doesn't specify who will inherit their possessions, leaving it up to a game or a puzzle, so whoever is worthy can obtain the fortune. The puzzle can be a race, a mystery game with continuous hints or a number of things. May also be a Secret Test of Character.

A common twist includes discovering that one of the potential heirs is the one who killed Bob. The winner usually ends up with an unexpected new fortune.

Legal nitpick: Since Bob for this trope necessarily leaves a will, the "heirs" are technically "devisees" and "legatees": Bob's heirs are those who stood to inherit had he died without a will; devisees and legatees are persons named in the will receiving real property (land) or personal property (anything other than land) respectively. Often these are the same people as Bob's heirs, but often they are not.

May be a result of Inadequate Inheritor. Often a characteristic of a Silly Will. Compare On One Condition. If the "game" is just the aspiring heirs killing each other, and the inheritance is on a very large scale, see Succession Crisis.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • The Drops of God: The whole plot is basically the main character getting into a wine tasting contest with his adoptive brother to inherit his father's vast and valuable wine collection.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist has Ling and May, two potential successors to the throne of Xing (out of over a dozen others). All of them are searching for the best way to prove that they will be the best to succeed the throne, and these two decide to seek out the philosopher's stone in hopes of obtaining a method to give immortality to others.
  • This is the premise of the "Russian Doll Case" in The Kindaichi Case Files. A famous mystery writer has died without heirs, and he selects five close "friends" as his potential beneficiaries to his enormous wealth. These candidates must solve the mystery he's set up in order to win the inheritance.
  • One Piece: Gol D. Roger effectively did this with his dying statement that kicked off the Golden Age of Piracy, declaring that he was leaving his treasure to whomever could find it and thus making everyone in the world his potential heirs. The only one he ever considered giving the information to directly was Edward "Whitebeard" Newgate, but the other man turned it down.

    Audio Play 
  • Rejet's VANQUISH BROTHERS centers around a family of six wealthy but horrid brothers, who are set to claim their late father's inheritance. The problem is that the father has set up only one inheritance—the heroine, who is also to become the wife of one of them provided that they take her virginity. Most of the boys decide to take her forcibly, although one has enough sense to try seducing her.
    Comic Books 
  • Disney Ducks Comic Universe:
    • "Family of Fore" features Scrooge McDuck and Flintheart Glomgold learning they're distantly related and must play a golf match against each other for a treasure left behind by a relative named Bogey McDivot. After Scrooge wins, both competitors are dismayed to learn the "treasure" is the golf course.
    • In "Some Heir Over the Rainbow", Scrooge decides to give all of his remaining relatives/potential heirs (nephew Donald, grandnephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie and sister's nephew-by-marriage Gladstone Gander) a Secret Test of Character similar to the Parable of the Talents — by causing each of them to "find" a pot of gold and seeing what they do with it, he can judge who would take the best care of his wealth. Donald just gets himself in debt, Gladstone buries it and forgets about it, and it at first looks like the boys lost their entire fortune by giving it to someone to find a lost treasure, but their investment turns out to pay off when the guy shows up with their share, so Scrooge decides the triplets win, and many "canon" comics thereafter continue to reference them as the sole heirs to Scrooge's fortune.
  • Spirou and the Heirs has one between Fantasio and Zantafio courtesy of their recently deceased and very rich uncle. The challenges are: Invent something that will benefit humanityspoiler , come at least third in a formula 1 racespoiler  and capture a Marsupilami.spoiler  Turns out that said uncle had actually managed to squabble away all his money and the inheritance was simply the experience from their adventures

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Scavenger Hunt (1979): 1979 movie based on this premise. Milton Parker dies and leaves his fortune to the person or group of people that win his scavenger hunt. There is no motivation to make them become a family.
  • Stardust: It's something of a tradition for the princes of Stormhold to kill each other off before their father dies, until only one remains to inherit. On his deathbed, the king expresses some disappointment that his sons didn't manage it, and announces that his heir will be the one who manages to obtain a ruby he threw into the sky. They all die before any of them manage to obtain it, and their long-lost nephew acquires it and unintentionally inherits the throne in their stead.
  • The Hudsucker Proxy: The terms of Mr. Hudsucker's Lost Will and Testament state whoever becomes the first person to replace him as the CEO of Hudsucker Industries will inherit his shares of the company.
  • Werewolf by Night (2022): Since Elsa is viewed as an Inadequate Inheritor, Ulysses decided that upon his death, the Bloodstone would instead pass to to whichever monster hunter is able to find kill the monster placed in a maze.

  • In the interactive book The Dandee Diamond Mystery, the reader/protagonist's rich and eccentric uncle left the Dandee Diamond to the one who most deserves it. However, before the protagonist can figure out who deserves it the most, he must find the diamond, and the uncle's only clue in the will was talking to his parrot.
  • In L. M. Montgomery's A Tangled Web (1931), eccentric Aunt Becky willed that the name of the heir of a priceless heirloom will only be disclosed a year after her death. Because the will dropped a few hints that a unknown judge would be selecting the heir, the family members spent the rest of the year trying their best to live up to what Aunt Becky would have wanted in an attempt to win the heirloom.
  • The Westing Game: Samuel W. Westing chose 16 people apparently at random as his heirs; the book opens with them summoned to hear the reading of the will. He leaves everything to the winner of the puzzle he calls The Westing Game. Who will win? That's the entire book.
  • Edgar & Ellen: Augustus Nod, the founder of Nod's Limbs, willed his estate to whoever finds the original limbs of the statue erected to him.
  • Most of the plot of Stardust comes from a set of heirs competing to inherit the throne. The expected method of succession isn't primogeniture, but for one son to murder all the others before his father dies. When this fails to happen, the disappointed father sets them on a competitive quest to prove their worth.
  • In Ready Player One, Halladay's contest for the OASIS can be considered one of these, though in a twist, the potential heirs are effectively everyone in the entire world. (Excluding those who are unable to use the OASIS, obviously.)
  • Forest Kingdom: In book 2 (Blood and Honor), since King Malcom's will is missing, along with the two items used in the ritual coronation, it's initially declared that whichever of his three sons finds those items will become King. The Regent later opens the game of finding these items to anyone of the right Blood, but the three sons all have their own allies standing by to intercept anyone who tries to take the throne that way.
  • The 39 Clues begins when Amy and Dan Cahill attend their grandmother Grace's funeral and the reading of her will. There, along with an assortment of colorful distant relatives, they make the choice: one million dollars or the chance to find the Clues alongside au pair Nellie Gomez. They choose to receive their first Clue, and are subsequently thrown into a five-hundred-year-old web of backstabbing, lies, and deceit.
  • "Mr. Bovey's Unexpected Will", by Elizabeth Thomasina Meade Smith (writing as L. T. Meade) and featuring her detective character Miss Florence Cusack, features a recently-deceased miser who had cashed in his securities not long before and then declared, via a clause in his will, that of the three claimants named, whomever of them has a body weight closest to the weight of the money (in gold sovereigns) will inherit. The man who weighs 179 pounds, just one shy of the fortune's 180 pounds, winds up inheriting. Naturally, soon after this, one of the losing claimants tries to rob the winning claimant.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the Community episode "Digital Estate Planning", Pierce's father leaves his will in the form of a video game. Whoever wins the game gets the inheritance.
  • In an episode of Married... with Children, Al Bundy's Uncle Stymie, the only male Bundy to be a success in life (Al credits this to the fact that Stymie was the only one who never married), left his $500,000 estate to the first male Bundy to have a legitimate son named after him. Considering that the lawyer who read the will would later marry a male Bundy and give birth to Stymie Junior to get the money, Al and the other Bundys didn't get the money, even though they could have challenged the will under claims of undue influence.
    • Something similar happened in "Love and the Baby Derby", a episode of Love, American Style. The brothers learn, at their uncle's funeral, that the first one to marry and have a son will inherit. Then the uncle rises from the coffin: he'd faked his death, 'cuz he's such a funny guy, but he was serious about the "baby derby". Given his sense of humor, its not surprising that after both brothers do father children, the uncle reveals that he himself had married and had a son, so the money stayed with him. (He tells the brothers that their new families are the "real" wealth. Their response: "Wanna trade?")
  • The short-lived 2013 series The Goodwin Games featured three siblings that were named heirs in their father's will so long as they partake in the titular games, which are given to them by the Video Will of their father and presided over by his attorney April. In a twist from the usual trope, the siblings aren't competing against each other, but with each other, as the father wanted the games to bring them together as a family again. However, they are competing against Elijah, a seemingly random guy who their father declared would receive a portion of the inheritance every time the Goodwins fail a game.
  • Slasher: In the Flesh and Blood season, family patriarch Spencer Galloway gathers his extended family to tell them that A) he's dying from cancer and so has arranged to have himself euthanized, and B) he considers every single one of them an Inadequate Inheritor, so he's arranged a series of games for them to participate in, with the ultimate winner becoming the sole recipient of his fortune. Things are complicated from the start due to the fact that the Galloways are all terrible people with a boatload of issues between them, not to mention that the sociopathic Spencer designed the contest to be all Deadly Games, only for things to get worse when a masked figure called the Gentleman starts killing off the games' losers as they're eliminated. The Gentleman turns out to be Spencer's end-of-life specialist, whom he hired to weed out "weakness" among his descendants to ensure that only the strongest ends up with his money.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Rocket Age some Martian Principalities determine succession through Royal Karn Chariot Races. Some principalities use ceremonial duels to determine succession, a fact exploited by Danny Hatfield to gain control of J'lkarine.

  • The primary inheritance in The Pajama Party Murders is to be split evenly among all surviving Cosmo cousins who stay the night, but the much more valuable patent rights go to the person who can solve the poem that Cosmo left after his death and find the unsigned paperwork.

    Video Games 
  • Professor Layton and the Curious Village uses this trope as its main plotline. Layton and Luke have to find the Golden Apple in order to inherit the late Baron Reinhold's wealth. The Golden Apple turns out to be a birthmark on his daughter's neck that only appears when she laughs - the baron was looking for a guardian who could make Flora happy.
  • In the video game Safe Cracker, a millionaire hides his will in a house full of bizarre safes, every one of which must be unlocked to access the document. When found, the document leaves it up to whoever successfully cracks the safes to decide who gets his fortune.

    Visual Novels 
  • Umineko: When They Cry: The successor to the Ushiromiya family's headship and fortune (which includes 10 tons of solid gold) seemed to be locked and set—and then a letter from the resident witch arrived, announcing that the spoils have been made fair game to anyone who can solve the Witch's Epitaph, a long riddle which incidentally, details a ritual requiring human sacrifice. Mind games (and lots and lots of murder) ensue.

    Web Animation 
  • In chargesdotcomdotbr web series "Só Levando", there was a season where Michael Jackson Expy "Miguel Jackson" died and wrote a will leaving one million dollars to one child from each nation. One of the main characters of that series is a boy named Johan, who, as his name suggests, is a German. However, he was adopted by a Brazilian family after his birth parents were killed during a police raid. Johan's foster parents entered a game show held to decide which Brazilian child would get the money. Johan won. However, because his foster parents never went through the proper channels to adopt him, he still was, for all legal intents and purposes, German, disqualifying him.

    Western Animation 
  • In one story arc on Rocky and Bullwinkle, a will specified that the deceased's "million-dollar note" would go to whoever had a foot bearing a certain name on it—which turned out to be Bullwinkle. Except that to claim the money, he had to spend the night in the owner's mansion (with the owner's sons making various attempts to get him out of the building). Rocky and Bullwinkle succeed, but then it's revealed that Bullwinkle's foot no longer bears the mark, because apparently it was just an imprint from his shower mat. So the million-dollar note goes to the sons. BUT! It turns out to be a promissory note, placing the sons in a $1 million debt, while Bullwinkle gets to go home to the happy status quo (telling Rocky that although that mark on his foot was just a temporary imprint, the mark on his other foot "never comes off").
  • Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego?: Carmen's will placed her main henchpeople and the main detectives on a scavenger hunt to decide who's fit to inherit her place as head of VILE.
  • 101 Dalmatians: The Series: During a Family reunion, Malevola DeVil announced she'd bequeath her whole estate to the relative who takes Dearly Farm for her. Since nobody won the "game", see Insurrectionist Inheritor to learn who got the inheritance.
  • Scooby-Doo and Guess Who?: In "The Nightmare Ghost of Psychic U!", the titular university's founder made a will saying that, if it closes, the property goes to his nearest living relative.

  • The Clue VCR game from The '80s had one of these as Mr. Boddy's third will. (Apparently in case the previous two were destroyed, which they were.) The challenge was to divulge secrets about the others and the one who exposes the most wins. Mrs. White says that the challenge was geared towards her since she's been cataloging secrets about the others in her diary, except it's been stolen by Mr. Green. In the end, nobody wins since they're all driven to kill each other.

    Real Life 
  • Diana Dors (1931-1984), English actress and sex symbol, was said to have put away 2 million British pounds in banks across Europe for safekeeping. Her son and heir Mark Dawson was then given a code that would lead him to the inheritance. Her widower Alan Lake had the key that would solve the code, but ended up killing himself five months after Dors died. Unlike the above examples, the money has yet to be found in spite of the heir's best efforts, use of professional cryptographers, and even a TV documentary.

Alternative Title(s): Heir Of Mystery