Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Friday, September 29, 2006

Nobel's Will

NobelIn Alfred Nobel and the Prize That Almost Didn’t Happen, NY Times, Sept. 26, 2006, Lawrence K. Altman explains that "because of the unsophisticated way Nobel drew up his will," the Nobel Prize almost did not exist.  Nobel's will "was flawed and legally deficient because he lived in many places and never established a legal residence.  Nobel resided for many years in France, made intermittent visits to a home in Sweden and amassed assets in many countries before dying of a stroke at his villa in Italy."

Here a few excerpts from the article:

Bitter members of Nobel’s largely disinherited family fought the will in court. Scorn was heaped on Nobel’s gift, the equivalent of $9.5 million and one of the largest fortunes of his time, by the king of Sweden, Oscar II; newspapers; political leaders; and other Swedes. * * *

Nobel’s earnings came from his 355 patents and factories in many countries. Swedish leaders vehemently opposed dispersing a Swedish fortune to the rest of the world. Among their reasons: it was immoral, particularly at a time when many Swedes were impoverished.

King Oscar II changed his mind after the Nobel Foundation was established in 1900, in part because he thought publicity about the prizes might benefit Sweden.  * * *

Nobel wrote his will in Swedish a year before his death while he lived in Paris, and the portion dealing with the prizes was one long paragraph. It named the groups to make the awards: the Karolinska Institute (medicine), the Swedish Academy of Sciences (chemistry and physics), the Swedish Academy (literature) and the Norwegian Parliament (peace). Later, economics was added as a separate prize. * * *

Swedes were astonished that Nobel prepared his will unaided and without consulting the executors of his estate and the institutions that he entrusted to make the awards. He even left his fortune to a nonexistent foundation that his executors had to create posthumously.

Nobel’s disregard for legal advice in writing his will reflects what he wrote in dealing with a legal matter, according to Mr. Sohlman: “Lawyers have to make a living, and can only do so by inducing people to believe that a straight line is crooked.”

Special thanks to the many readers who brought this article to my attention including  Prof. Joel C. Dobris (University of California-- Davis) and Prof. Robert Mikos (University of California -- Davis).


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