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Where There's a Will, There's a Sticky Note

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After a Near-Death Experience, being reminded of their advancing age, or having to deal with another person's death, a character decides that it's time to get their affairs in order.

However, they don't do this by going to see a lawyer and writing up a will - instead, they either write the name of the intended recipient on the item or ask their friends and family to label their possessions if they would like to inherit them.

This trope can come in three flavors:

  • No reference to a legal Last Will and Testament is made - it's all down to the sticky notes. (For obvious reasons, this is a bad idea in Real Life.)
  • It may be justified as the precursor to a legal will in the process of being written, rather than being intended to stand as is.
  • The writer is in imminent peril and thus writes a "will" on the closest thing available.

See also If You Die, I Call Your Stuff. Contrast Personal Effects Reveal. Wills are one of the most commonly notarized items in real-life, but do not expect that to be the case in fiction, feeding into this trope. It's possible the writer Couldn't Find a Pen.


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  • In The Baby-Sitters Club series of books, in the weeks approaching her death, Claudia's grandmother Mimi labels many of her possessions with the names of the people she would like to have them when she passes on.
  • After Bilbo vanishes in The Fellowship of the Ring, he leaves labelled items as gifts for people. One of his enemies does demand to see a will, but as it turns out, it's all in order. It's implied to be the normal way of doing things amongst Hobbits. Chaos arises because everyone in the Shire believes Bilbo's home hides riches from his adventure in The Hobbit. It doesn't, as Bilbo actually only got two small chests filled with gold and silver (as opposed to the mountains of jewels everyone thinks he has), and he spent most of it in the intervening yearsnote . But that doesn't stop people from rummaging around Bag End and trying to get more than their share.
  • In Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth, the narration reveals that Greg's great-grandmother, Gammie, is so old that people have started putting sticky notes on her stuff. Greg notes how distasteful this is before admitting he did the same.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Facing the possibility of losing her trial and going to prison in the "Queen B." episode of Arrested Development, Lucille decides to take some keepsakes with her but finds that everything in her home has already been labelled by family.
    Lucille: This does not bode well for tomorrow.
    Narrator: Actually, they'd claimed those things years earlier when she was having a sunspot checked.
    • After her fellow prisoners plan to kill her, Lucille finds that the guards and prisoners have labelled her stuff in her cell.
  • Cheers: In episode "Where There's a Will...", an affable but terminally ill rich dude writes a note on a napkin leaving the gang at Cheers $100,000. Played realistically, as one of the bar patrons, a law student, says that a will has to be verified by three witnesses and thus the napkin is worthless.
  • In one episode of Ghost Whisperer, the Victim of the Week had his belongings labeled like this.
  • When Tom has surgery in an episode of Waiting for God, his greedy daughter-in-law insists that everything in his and Diana's apartment be labeled so Diana can't claim anything of his.
  • After one of Niles's co-workers passes away in an episode of Frasier, Frasier gives stickers to Niles and Martin and tells them to label any possessions of his they would like to inherit. Later in the episode, Frasier finds a sticky note on his expensive bathrobe labeled "Niles", and mutters, "The vultures are circling."
  • Lorelei's parents on Gilmore Girls ask Lorelei and Rory to label any items they would like to inherit with Post-It notes. They find this amusingly awkward.
  • In "Bond," the season 7 opener of the The Good Wife, Alicia takes on the case of a woman whose mother just died, leaving either her or her brother to inherit a signed Chagall painting worth $8 million. The mother had labelled everything in her home with Post-It notes designating who should have what, but a recent heatwave has caused the notes to fall off. The ensuing legal battle over the painting ends up involving: an adhesives expert to provide testimony on the Post-It notes; an aerodynamics expert to testify as to how exactly the Post-It notes would have fallen; and an industrial suction expert to talk about the deceased's Roomba, which could have disturbed the notes on them as they lay on the floor.
  • In a episode of M*A*S*H, while assigned temporarily to a forward aid station, replacing a doctor that was killed, Hawkeye starts to write a will, leaving his camp items to members of the company. The other doctor says he's seen many wills written there.
  • Ron Swanson on Parks and Recreation has been carrying his will with him since childhood. It consists of a scrap of paper that says:"upon my death, all my belongings shall transfer to the man or animal who has killed me". Notably, he continues to carry this even after he has a wife and kids, as he doesn't believe in inherited wealth. Ben ultimately talks him into getting an official will by point out that, if he doesn't have one, much of his wealth will go to the government.
  • Succession: After the death of Logan Roy his executor finds an undated private note in the deceased's belongings bequeathing items and positions to the characters. The characters are aware that it's not legally binding, but still try to interpret it in ways that benefit them.


     Western Animation 
  • One episode of The Fairly OddParents! has Timmy resorting to drafting a will on an Etch-a-Sketch after Vicky gets control of his fairies.
  • In the pilot episode for DuckTales (2017), while the triplets and Webby explore Scrooge's garage, Louie starts attaching green sticky notes to things he wants when Scrooge eventually dies.

    Real Life 
  • The legal term for this kind of document is "Holographic Will." The validity of such a will varies widely from one jurisdiction to the next.
  • Purportedly, the shortest will ever accepted as valid read simply "Vše ženě"—Czech for "Everything to wife." The man in question had scrawled this on his bedroom wall after realizing he was about to die. Under the circumstances, the Czech courts accepted the will and duly gave his estate to his widow.
  • In 1948, Cecil George Harris of Rosetown, Saskatchewan, used a pocket knife to scratch the words "In case I die in this mess, I leave all to the wife" into the fender of his tractor. The mess was him being pinned by his farm machinery for 10 hours in bad weather. While he was found and rescued, he died that night of his injuries. A few days later, the writing was noticed and taken to the local court, with his widow claiming this was his last will and testament. The judge accepted it without question and ordered that particular portion of the tractor be cut off and filed. It's still on display at the Law Library of the University of Saskatchewan's College of Law.
  • In cases such as The Gimli Glider and other instances where people expected to meet their demise within hours if not minutes, some have written wills on anything they could write on.
  • Aretha Franklin appeared to die without a will in place, but several months after her death her family found two handwritten wills in her home. Michigan, where she resided at the time of her death, does consider handwritten wills valid. Her sons were divided over which of the wills should be considered valid as each document named a different executor. In 2023 a jury ruled in favor of the second will, which had been discovered under a couch.