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"Duh, essentially, we all enter into a contract whereby the last surviving participant becomes the sole possessor of all them purty pictures."
Milton "Oxford" Haas, The Simpsons, "The Curse of the Flying Hellfish"

This is when a group of people take one or more collectively owned items of worth and put it in trust. The last surviving member of the group will then receive the items. Coincidentally, participants in a tontine tend to have a slightly short life expectancy.


Originally, a Tontine was an investment where multiple participants would buy in for an equal amount. The entity running the Tontine (usually a bank) would invest the money and pay out dividends. When a participant died, his dividends would be paid out to the remaining members. The last surviving member would receive the entire principal. This trope was commonly used in older murder mysteries, but has since fallen out of favor. This is probably because most kinds of tontine are now illegal, for the precise reason of being such a good setup for a murder mystery...

This is almost an example of a Forgotten Trope. It's also almost a subtrope of Inheritance Murder, saved only by the fact that murdering people over a tontine is technically optional.

Not to be confused with "Tontine Therapy", an Australian euphemism for smothering someone to death with a pillow which takes its name from pillows with the Tontine brand name. Not that it can't be the murder weapon in the above trope, but the etymology is separate.



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    Anime and Manga 
  • One Piece A variation of this: Brook and his old crew made a promise to reunite with a baby whale named Laboon. Later on, Brook and his crew were killed by attackers wielding poisoned arrows. Along with playing their last song, the crew entrusted Brook to fulfill the promise to Laboon using the power of the Yomi-Yomi fruit: an ability that grants the user an extra life. Unfortunately, he was stranded on the destroyed ship for 50 years until he met the Straw Hat Crew and told them of his story and determination to fulfill his promise from his crew to Laboon.
  • The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, volume 3: suicidal and/or people desperately needing money sign on to a game where they make certain changes to their life insurance, so that it pays into an escrow account after they die. Since insurance won't pay for suicides, the members of the game have to get murdered - by other people playing the game. The players need to find the other members of the game and kill them, or lead other members who are more comfortable with murder to kill the ones whose house they have discovered. The game ends when about two-thirds of the original group dies and the rest gain an equal share of the collective amount gained by the escrow account for a second chance at life.

    Board Games 
  • In the VCR Mystery Game version of Clue, Mr. Boddy does a variant in his latest will where the last surviving person among those who attended the reading would claim the entire inheritance. Naturally, all sorts of attempted murders occur.

    Comic Books 
  • The very first Batman story, "The Case of the Chemical Syndicate". Stryker, Lambert, Crane and Rogers all own equal shares of the titular syndicate. One decides he wants the whole thing. Murder ensues.
  • In DC Comics' Birds of Prey #75, we learn that the Blackhawk Squadron had a tontine. As with the M*A*S*H episode "Old Soldiers", it was in the form of a bottle, and was drunk by the time-tossed Lady Blackhawk, last surviving member of the squadron.
  • Marvel Comics has a WWII-era group who put aside a bottle of liquor as a tontine: the Young Allies. Bucky Barnes tracked down the other two survivors, and they have a laugh over it— thanks to being cryogenically frozen over the years, Bucky is still in his mid-twenties and will obviously outlive them all. Bucky says he'd rather share the bottle with them now instead of drinking it when they're dead, so they each have a glass. Bucky finds himself the sole survivor very shortly afterward, and pours the rest of the drink out over a memorial to his friends.

    Fan Works 
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfic A Tontine of Fun, by Estee, a scam artist sets one of these up with the intention of absconding with the principal when everypony's back is turned. She doesn't account for the idea that a certain immortal ruler might want to get in on it.

  • The Happytime Murders: After talking to the former producer of "The Happytime Gang," Phillips and Edwards learns that essentially all of the former actors were put into a tontine, in that each of the surviving actors gets an equal cut of the residuals when the show starts being replayed in syndication - but with each actor that dies, each slice to the surviving actors gets bigger, until of course there's only one recipient still alive.
  • Played with for the movie Tomcats; a group of friends promised each bachelor in the group would put aside money every year in a fund going to the last remaining bachelor. The main character, one of the two left in the contest, has incurred a massive gambling debt in Vegas and must now get his last friend to marry before the casino owner makes good on some very nasty promises. The added hitch is of course that the last friend is still completely happy as a bachelor, and his stated life goal is to have sex with every woman in the world, while never once actually having a relationship.
  • While it's not an actual literal tontine, the MacGuffin in The Whole Nine Yards is a joint account of 10 million dollars between three people, and all three need to be present in order to withdraw the money. person and two death certificates, which, given the relationships between the three people involved (mob boss, mob boss's hitman-turned-police-informer, and the estranged wife of said hitman-turned-police-informer) is probably inevitable.
  • The events of The Wrong Box are set in motion by the opening scene in which a group of children are made part of a tontine.
  • In the British/German 1959 production Ten Seconds to Hell (aka The Phoenix), a German team defusing bombs in post-war Berlin put half their salaries in a fund to be used by whoever survives the next three months in the job.

  • Agatha Christie used this as a plot in several of her books. In 4:50 from Paddington, Miss Marple uses this exact word to describe Luther Crackenthorpe's will. The vast Crackenthorpe fortune will go in equal portion to his heirs...and if someone starts murdering the heirs before Luther finally croaks, the shares to the remaining Crackenthorpes will go up.
  • Seen also in The Wrong Box by Robert Louis Stevenson and Lloyd Osbourne.
  • The plot of The Butler Did It by P. G. Wodehouse features a tontine set up by millionaires for their sons just before the 1929 stock market crash, and the butler (not Jeeves) manipulating what happens to the lone kids still in the running for the tontine.
  • Ellery Queen:
    • Variant: Last Man To Die featured a tontine, but instead of foul play, the last two members died on the same night. Which one died first?
    • In the short story "The Inner Circle", a tontine provides the motive for murder. After three members die of natural causes in the one year, the murderer realises there is only one person left standing between him and the money.
    • There's another Ellery Queen story where three Civil War veterans have a tontine to decide ownership of a fortune they discovered during the war. The grandchild of one of the men finds out and plots to murder the other two, not realizing that the "fortune" is in Confederate money.
  • Deliberately invoked in the novel Last To Die by James Grippando. A millionaire leaves 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.
  • Variant: In The Last Man's Reward a group of neighborhood kids living in the same temporary apartment building buys a box of baseball cards at a garage sale, which contains many rare and valuable cards. They hide it in a cave, and the last kid to move out of the apartment building gets to keep the whole box.
  • The Doctor Syn ("The Scarecrow") book "The Amazing Quest of Doctor Syn" involves one member of a tontine trying to wipe the others out.
  • The men of Maggody arrange a tontine for possession of the bass boat in Joan Hess's Merry Wives of Maggody, apparently not aware that such a document is illegal and unenforceable. Roy Stiver Lampshades how tontines had never made much sense to begin with, even in mystery novels.
  • The Sidney Sheldon book Bloodline featured Roffe & Sons Pharmaceuticals, a company whose founder saw to it that his heirs wouldn't be allowed to sell their shares unless all shareholders agreed to it. Detective Max Hornung, who was investigating the murder of Sam Roffe, compared that with the tontine.
  • The Epicurean Club in Neil Gaiman's short story "The Sunbird" was founded "with the proceeds of a tontine, which [the founder] had taken great pains, in the traditional manner, to ensure that he had collected in full."
  • Thomas Bertram Costain's The Tontine follows the lives of three young people entered in a Victorian tontine.
  • In the short story "The Magnum" by Jack Ritchie, Amos Weatherlee tells Harry Sloan the story of how the cursed object of a tontine has caused the members of the tontine, a group of Spanish-American war veterans including Weatherlee, to apparently become immortal. Weatherlee is a Con Man who has made the whole thing up to trick Sloan into buying himself into the tontine.
  • In Jody Lynn Nye's 1993 science fiction novel Taylor's Ark, the title character rescues a little girl from a colony planet that has been ravaged by a disease that has killed off all of the other colonists except her. The bank that owns the colony worlds wishes to sell them to the highest bidder, and is using the virus to kill off the colonists on said worlds. Unfortunately, the colonists on the planet where the girl was found anticipated this and set up their estate plan in the form of a tontine, making the girl a multi-millionaire.

    Live Action TV 
  • Figured in the plot of an episode of Barney Miller. Unusual in that the participants seemed to be quite amicable towards each other; it's a pair of elderly men who decide to play cards to see who will claim it. The lawyer handling the case is shockingly indifferent to their fates.
  • The Brokenwood Mysteries: The plot of the aptly-titled episode "Tontine" is that members of the group start dying under suspicious circumstances.
  • In The Daily Show during the "You're Welcome" session John Hodgman (Resident Deranged Millionaire) suggested that they solve national debt problems by making Social Security a tontine. And by making murder legal. Seconds later he attempted to strangle Jon Stewart.
  • A quick visit to the Harper's Island Wiki shows that this was one the early theories about why the killings would be taking place, due to the fact that around half of the cast had attended college together. The theory was debunked by the end of the first episode, and definitely by the second, when virtually none of the killings had involved any of the college-age cast.
  • This was used in an eighth season episode of M*A*S*H called "Old Soldiers" with Col. Potter. Note that in this case, the tontine was not an investment, but rather a bottle of brandy, to be drunk in a toast by the last surviving member of the group.
  • Murdoch Mysteries: In "Kommando", the murdered soldiers were all members of a tontine, which muddies the waters as to motive.
  • "The Night of the Tottering Tontine" on The Wild Wild West. West and Gordon are assigned to protect a government scientist invested in a tontine whose members are being killed off.

    Video Games 
  • One of the cases in Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective involved the murder of a Waterloo veteran, and there was mention of a tontine involving the survivors of that battle, thus implying that the killer might be one of the other surviving veterans (There weren't many left, seeing as this takes place roughly eighty years after the battle) or an heir of one of the other veterans. The killer was actually the brother of the deceased's former mistress, who was seeking revenge for the dishonor of his sister and did not care about the tontine one way or the other.
  • In The Colonel's Bequest, the titular Colonel declares that every person at the manor at the time he makes the announcement (Apart from the player character) who outlives him will receive an equal share of his fortune. By morning, virtually everyone in the manor is dead. Though the person who did most of the killing wasn't primarily concerned about the money.
  • In West of Loathing, while exploring the (re)Boot Hill cemetery, you can learn about a tontine established by three members who apparently all died at the same time, and as a result, the reward lies hidden somewhere. It's possible for the player to solve the puzzle and claim the treasure.

    Web Animation 
  • In Camp Camp, the Quartermaster apparently has one of these along with his "Quartersister" and two other unknown individuals. Or at least he did until it was whittled down to just him and one of the unknowns.

    Western Animation 
  • Used in the The Simpsons episode "Raging Abe Simpson and His Grumbling Grandson in 'The Curse of the Flying Hellfish'", as the quote demonstrates. It's revealed that Abe Simpson and Mr. Burns served together during World War II, and their squad (the Flying Hellfish) acquired a set of priceless German paintings, with the agreement that the last member of the Hellfish to die would get them. It ends when just as Abe manages to claim the paintings by "discharging" Burns, the State Department shows up, confiscates the painting and presents them to a descendant of their original German owner for diplomatic purposes. The descendant is not too worried about their safety, either.
  • Archer, "The Double Deuce." When members of Woodhouse's old World War I flying squad start dropping dead (of perfectly natural causes that were played up as "dubious" by desperate-for-sales newspapers), he suspects that it's because of the tontine they set up. One of the members does end up being murdered, but by Archer in the belief Woodhouse is about to be killed by him due to a fairly-understandable misconception from Woodhouse staring into the barrel of a revolver to inspect the bore's condition with an operator holding it with a finger on the trigger. The episode ends with the surviving two members of the tontine staring at each other with seemingly dark intent for a second before instead Woodhouse's squadmate comments that he was surprised that Woodhouse and Archer were allowed to adopt a baby together. Cheryl, Pam and Cyril hear about this and discuss starting an ISIS tontine, pointing out that since the rest of their coworkers are either field agents that go on dangerous missions or work in parts of the building with No OSHA Compliance it'll be that much easier to win. Cyril does acknowledge that Tontines are illegal, but it doesn't stop him from joining in.
  • Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!: A Colonel bequeathed his residence and one million dollars to be evenly split among five beneficiaries. Each beneficiary is required to spend one night at the residence to be allowed to receive their share of the estate. The shares of those who fail will go to the beneficiaries who don't fail. The lawyers who informed the beneficiaries about the will tries to get rid of them (scare them away before daybreak, not kill them) to get the money but they get caught and Scooby-Doo, as the only beneficiary who spent a night at the Colonel's home, inherits the whole estate. Unfortunately, the dollars are Confederate money.

See also Wikipedia.

Alternative Title(s): The Tontine