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Napoleon's Will Is Sold, but What Does It Say?

By Betty Wang, JD on November 06, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The late French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte's will has been sold at auction for about $483,000, more than twice the expected selling price, The Associated Press reports.

Though Napoleon's will is dated April 16, 1821, and was written by an advisor, it contains some valuable legal lessons when it comes to estate planning -- even for modern-day Americans.

Here are five things we can all learn from Napoleon's will:

  1. Napoleon wanted his ashes spread over the Seine River. However, his ashes were actually transferred to Paris' Invalides monument, the AP reports. While cremation is on the rise in modern times, there are certain laws and rules about handling a person's ashes after cremation, Time reports. For example, it's illegal to disperse ashes on California beaches; other places like Grand Canyon National Park require a permit.
  2. Napoleon included an inventory of his assets. Making an inventory list can aid you in planning your estate -- it can help you figure out who gets what. Make sure you include real estate, valuable personal property (like jewelry and vehicles) and other key items.
  3. Napoleon had four codicils. Codicils are amendments to a will that alter the former will in some way. One should always be careful with codicils and make sure that they're properly executed.
  4. Napoleon's final codicil included his servants, while former versions didn't. Napoleon's housekeeper, stable keeper, doorkeeper, and other staff received money in his final codicil, though they weren't mentioned at all in prior versions. One should always be careful when adding beneficiaries, especially when the testator is near death, because they may be challenged by others for reasons such as fraud or undue influence.
  5. Napoleon had a holographic will. Napoleon's entire will was illegibly handwritten, the AP reports. If submitted today, Napoleon's will would be considered a holographic will -- a handwritten will that can still be legally valid. However, holographic wills must meet particular requirements that vary by state.

To learn more about drafting your will, check out FindLaw's free Guide to Writing a Will. For more specific guidance, head to our lawyer directory to find an experienced wills attorney near you.

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