Warren E. Burger was the 15th Chief Justice of the United States. During his tenure from 1969 to 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered many ground-breaking decisions, including Roe v. Wade. However, even the most esteemed jurists are not above testamentary blunders. When he died in 1995, Burger left the following self-drafted one-page will:
LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT
WARREN E. BURGER
I hereby make and declare the following to be my last will and testament.
1. My exeuctors will first pay all claims against my estate;
2. The remainder of my estate will be distributed as follows: one-third to my daughter, Margaret Elizabeth Burger Rose and two-thirds to my son, Wade A. Burger;
3. I designate and appoint as executors of this will, Wade A. Burger and J. Michael Luttig.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand to this my Last Will and Testament this 9th day of June, 1994.
/s/ Warren E. Burger
We hereby certify that in our presence on the date written above WARREN E. BURGER signed the foregoing instrument and declared it to be his Last Will and Testament and that at this request in his presence and in the presence of each other we have signed our names below as witnesses.
/s/ Nathaniel E. Brady residing at 120 F St., NW, Washington, DC
/s/ Alice M. Khu residing at 3041 Meeting St., Falls Church, VA
[End of Document]
As you can see, the will does not include any administrative powers and lacks many other boilerplate provisions that are included in most wills. He even misspelled “executors” as “exeuctors.” In an article written shortly after the will became public, it is estimated that the poorly drafted will cost Burger’s children over $450,000 in taxes, which could have been easily avoided.
While this story is somewhat amusing given the testator’s one-time position as Chief Justice, it is an important reminder that trying to avoid legal costs by drafting your own testamentary documents will almost inevitably lead to problems and expenses for the very people that you are trying to benefit.