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Lost Will and Testament

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Some people just can't die in a neat and orderly fashion. Their wills, the listing of their last wishes, have gone missing and as a result, the heirs are fighting over the deceased's possessions. Sometimes the will has been intentionally hidden to keep it out of the wrong hands. Sometimes it's been stolen by someone who wants to get something out of it. Sometimes it's just been misplaced.

A complication arises when the character had actually left a will, but there is another, later one, which would of course supersede it.

See also A Plot in Deed, where characters need to find or acquire a property deed.


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     Anime & Manga 
  • Played with in Kaguya-sama: Love Is War given that it takes place before the testator in question is deceased. Shirogane goes to Kaguya's father Gan'an to try and get him to amend his will to keep Kaguya from being forced into an Arranged Marriage by her eldest brother Oko (who is the primary beneficiary). Gan'an points out that he can't actually help him since he's now suffering from dementia and no further alterations would hold up in court. But should it happen to go missing or be destroyed, then all his assets would have to be evenly split between his four children and Kaguya would have leverage for her own freedom.

     Films — Live-Action  
  • In A Cinderella Story, Sam's stepmother had initially gotten everything that belonged to Sam's father because he didn't make a will stating otherwise but it was eventually revealed he did leave a will and Fiona knew about it. To avoid prison time for this, she agreed to perform "community services" at the diner.
  • The 1997 film adaptation of The Borrowers involves unscrupulous lawyer Ocious P. Potter claiming that the deceased in question never wrote a proper will, thus making him the sole beneficiary of her estate including the house that her niece's family — the film's protagonists — are currently living in. In reality, she had an extra copy hidden in the walls of the house itself because she never did trust lawyers.
  • In Inception, the protagonists go into the mind of the heir to an international business empire while he dreams to persuade him to break up his father's business. The story they spin him within the dream involves him getting kidnapped by terrorists who tell him that his father left a hidden will inside a safe. In each successive layer of the dream, the goal is to convince the heir to find this "will". In the bottom layer of the dream inside an alpine mountain base, he finally has convinced himself sub-consciously to break up the company and he indeed "finds" a vault inside the base with a "will" from his father, stating that.
  • In Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Marvin Acme's will is mistaken for a sheet of blank paper because Mr. Acme wrote it in invisible ink. Roger used the paper to write a love poem to his wife, and near the end of the film when he takes it out to read it, the words suddenly appear on the other side.
  • In The White Sister, the heroine is cheated out of her rightful inheritance when her jealous half-sister burns their father's will.

  • Used in some of Charles Dickens' works.
    • Bleak House revolves around a court case about a disputed will. The long-dead Mr. Jarndyce made multiple wills, and no one knows which is the right one. At the end another will is found that clears up all the confusion, just as the whole estate is absorbed in costs.
    • Our Mutual Friend has a newly-discovered will that contradicts the earlier one. Again, yet another will is discovered later.
  • Amelia Peabody: In Crocodile on the Sandbank, the first book of the series, the importance of the MacGuffin turns out to be that it has a lost will hidden inside.
  • The Cat Who... Series: In book #5 (The Cat Who Played Brahms), when Fanny Klingenschoen dies, one of Qwill's first tasks is to find where she hid her will, per the request of her lawyers. It turns out to be in her safe, along with two outdated copies.
  • The John Bellairs book The Mummy, the Will and the Crypt has cereal magnate H. Bagwell Glomus, whose will was hidden away before his suicide, and young Johnny Dixon's desperate hunt for it (he wants the reward money to pay for a brain surgeon for his grandmother, whom he believes to be dying of a brain tumor). The search is opposed by Glomus's sister, who wants the will to stay hidden because she fears her brother hadn't left her anything (without a will, she at least got some of his money). Johnny ultimately finds where the will was hidden, but it's destroyed before anyone can read it. He still gets the reward money, since he did find where it was hidden.
  • The Ellery Queen novel The Greek Coffin Mystery starts when Ellery and his father Inspector Richard Queen are called in to locate the missing will of a wealthy art collector. Ellery narrows down the possible location of the will to a single location: the dead man's coffin. When it is exhumed, however, it contains no will but the surprising addition of a strangled ex-convict.
  • Forest Kingdom: In book 2 (Blood and Honor), King Malcom's will went missing, leaving his three sons to compete for the throne. It's later revealed he specifically ordered the castle steward to take it and keep it hidden until such time as they felt appropriate.
  • The Gates of Sleep: A variant form — Madame Arachne doesn't destroy the will to keep Marina from inheriting from her parents, she destroys it because it assigned Marina's guardianship to her godparents. She then claims Marina's guardianship as the newly-orphaned girl's sole remaining relative.
  • In the Hercule Poirot book Peril at End House the will of Nick is missing, only turning up after her faked death. It turns out to be a forgery.
  • While it eventually turns out to be a red herring, a plot point in the novel Crooked House is that the dead man's will is missing, and when it finally does turn up, it isn't the will that he showed and had witnessed in front of his family.
  • Judge Dee: One case deals with a former governor dying, and his first son kicking out the governor's second wife and child. Though it was certain the governor would leave his wife something, the son produced a will that left her nothing. Judge Dee finds the real will over the course of the story.
  • Several Lord Peter Wimsey stories involve this:
    • In "The Undignified Melodrama of the Bone of Contention," the governor's will is discovered next to an old book in a decrepit library. Lord Peter deduces, from the water stains on the book but not the will, that one of the heirs had hidden it there to keep the condition from being fulfilled.
    • In "The Fascinating Problem of Uncle Meleager's Will," Meleager Finch hides his will and leaves his niece a set of clues to its location in the form of a crossword puzzle.
  • There's a Miss Marple short story from The Thirteen Problems by Agatha Christie called Motive vs. Opportunity, where the will had been recently rewritten to leave all the dead man's money to a Phony Psychic, instead of his family. However, when the envelope that should have contained the will is opened, all it contains is a piece of blank paper. Then it's subverted, as the will is still right where it was, it was just written with disappearing ink.
  • Nancy Drew: The first book in the series, The Secret of the Old Clock, revolves about her realizing that an old man had left a later will, and tracking it down.
  • Nina Tanleven: Played with in The Ghost Wore Gray in that Captain Gray's will, which left the jewels he was safeguarding to Samson Carter, was found shortly after he died - he'd written it on the wall of the room where he was sitting when he died. It's the protagonists in the present day who have to find it again in order to confirm that yes, Captain Gray did indeed leave the treasure to Samson Carter, and Carter's bequest of the jewels to the college he founded is thus legitimate.
  • Retired Witches Mysteries:
    • The Grand Council of Witches sometimes tries to take advantage of these — if no will can be found and no relatives exist, they claim everything for themselves, as happened with an earth witch a few years before who'd been interested in joining the coven but was killed by a hit-and-run driver before she could.
    • In book 1, Molly and Elsie fear this will happen to Olivia's estate because they didn't think she even had a will. It's subverted when her ghost confirms she did indeed have one, which leaves everything to her daughter and fellow witch (Dorothy even gets her car, the one thing Olivia hadn't included in the will at the time because she was thinking of trading it in, after some doing).
  • In the Sherlock Holmes short story "The Doctor's Case" by Stephen King, the deceased was murdered because he had written a new will - which disinherited his long-suffering family in favor of a pet shelter - something he did purely out of spite. Holmes and Lestrade decide that between the abuse the man's family had gone through and the fact that he would have died within the year anyway, they can let the fact that they killed the man and destroyed the new will slide, and conceal the evidence.
  • Three Witnesses: Three years before the events of "When a Man Murders," Sidney Karnow wrote a new will disinheriting his aunt and cousins in favor of his wife. A few months later, Sidney was Left for Dead in The Korean War, and his lawyer Jim Beebe offered to suppress the will if Sidney's cousin Ann would marry him.

     Live-Action TV  
  • In a throwaway line from the second series of Arrested Development, Barry Zuckercorn starts talking nonsense to try to fudge the fact that he lost George Sr.'s will. He is rescued at the last minute by the fact that George isn't dead.
  • In an old episode of Poirot called 'The Case of the Missing Will', this happens after a dying man asks Poirot to be the executor of his new will. The man dies before he can write it and the previous one is discovered missing, stolen in fact. (The short story of the same title is very different and doesn't exactly fit the trope.)
  • Cheers did this as a throwaway gag. The reading of Eddie LeBec's will comes a significant amount of time after his funeral. Carla explains that he trusted his will with one of his hockey buddies who forgot where he put it.
  • Midsomer Murders: Inverted where a Manipulative Bastard retiree cajoles huge favours out of several friends by writing them into his will — separately, without the others' knowledge. When he dies, each produces a version that names them as primary beneficiary of an estate that he'd already squandered.
  • Rome. Realising that war is coming between Marc Antony and Octavian, Posca and his wife flee Egypt leaving all their wealth behind. However Posca is smart enough to steal the last will and testament of Marc Antony, a politically-explosive document that gives Octavian just what he needs to discredit Antony and declare war on Cleopatra.
  • Relic Hunter: "Love Letter" revolves around the marriage certificates and wedding vows of Josephine Pontoise and Guy de Bourdin, who were married on the eve of the French Revolution. Bourdin was executed by the revolutionaries minutes after the marriage took place, but the priest hid the pregnant Josephine, who's descendants still exist in present day. The certificate and vows would allow them to prove that the marriage took place, and they're the rightful inheritors of their ancestors wealth and land.

     Tabletop Games  
  • The Clue VCR Mystery Game had it that Mr. Boddy prepared two extra wills and hid them in case his first one is destroyed. It is and so is the first replacement they find. Strangely, all three wills have different conditions for paying off: the first one requires that the group kill each other off, the second is a more normal will with his fortune being divided among his friends, and the third pays the fortune to the one who can dig up the most secrets on the others.

  • Any Number Can Die: Just as the will is about to be read the lights go out and when they come back on the will is gone. However it is immediately revealed that Hannibal, the detective, has it. He grabbed it before anyone else could. It later ends up missing anyway.

     Video Games  
  • Infocom's first mystery game, Deadline, had an updated will in a safe behind a Bookcase Passage. Catching another character in the act of retrieving it is one of the keys to the mystery.
  • Safe Cracker has the player hired to find the will of an eccentric safe enthusiast. Turns out the guy never could decide and left the decision to whomever found the will.
  • The Forger in Town of Salem can opt to do this to up to three wills a game, in order to wipe out information that might threaten the Mafia. They can also, er, forge the will to falsely accuse someone else.

     Visual Novels  
  • A possible subplot in Cinders is finding her father's missing will, which Cinders believes will reveal her as the true heir to the house. However, it's subverted because it shows that the house was indeed left to Carmosa. It was only hidden because it's a sensitive legal document.

     Western Animation  
  • Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers: The eldest Baskerville brother inherited their father's manor because there was no (known) will stating otherwise. Hidden somewhere in the house, there was a will through which the youngest son inherited.
  • Popeye was about to inherit billions from an uncle but a gust of wind blew the will away when it was about to be read and Popeye spent most of the episode trying to retrieve it. He eventually found it but learned that, instead of money, his uncle left debts.
  • Pound Puppies (1980s): A flashback episode shows that Millicent Trueblood had founded the Puppy Pound, and the puppies needed to find her will in order to ensure the pound would go to her great-niece Holly rather than Holly's greedy aunt and guardian Katrina Stoneheart, who hated dogs and would have shut the pound down.

     Real Life  
  • Vladimir Lenin's will contained several last orders regarding the cadre of the Communist Party, which included firing Josef Stalin. Of course, it was conveniently misplaced by Uncle Joe and declassified only after his death.