Harry Houdini is known as one of the best magicians and escape artists of all time – perhaps even THE best. Despite his many death-defying stunts, it was not a performance that killed him. Instead, at the young age of 52, Houdini passed away of a ruptured appendix. Reports state that a McGill University student, J. Gordon Whitehead, asked Houdini if it were true that he could sustain any blow to the stomach. Houdini confirmed that it was true. Unexpectedly to Houdini, and before he could flex his stomach muscles to protect himself, Whitehead began to give repeated blows to Houdini’s abdomen. The magician showed signs that the punches had hurt him, but continued to perform despite the increasing pain.
Houdini gave his last performance at the Garrick Theatre in Detroit, Michigan on October 24, 1926 with a fever of 104 degrees Fahrenheit. He had already been diagnosed with acute appendicitis and likely would have lived had he decided to seek medical attention immediately upon his initial injury. After the show, Houdini was hospitalized and later died of peritonitis from a ruptured appendix at 1:26 PM on October 31, 1926.
Houdini had created a very detailed 23-clause-long will in 1924 with a codicil (update) done in 1925. In his will he gave $500 to each of his three assistants, $1,000 to the Society of American Magicians, requested that portions of his estate be liquidated and distributed to family members over time, and that 1/6th of the estate should go to his wife Beth with the remaining portions going to his remaining siblings. Houdini put some specific requirements upon the funds allowing some to receive their portion only if they “shall have been confirmed according to the Jewish law and traditions.” Houdini also gave his theatrical effects, new mysteries and illusions to his magician brother, Theodore, with instructions that they be burned upon Theodore’s death. He also left his most valuable books to the Library of Congress.
Houdini also chose to exclude certain people from his estate, most notably his sister-in-law twice-over, Sadie Weiss. Sadie had been married to Houdini’s brother Nathan but married the younger brother, Leopold, ten days after her divorce to Nathan was finalized. Houdini was very clear in his Will regarding his dislike for Sadie and his wishes that she receive no part of his estate.
It is also said that, just prior to his death, Houdini left his wife a secret code consisting of ten words chosen at random. She was told to perform a séance regularly until she was able to contact him. Houdini would then tell her the same ten words so that she would know for certain that it was him she spoke to. Bess held annual séances on Halloween for 10 years after his death, but with only speculation as to whether Houdini ever appeared with the words of his secret code.
Whether your wishes for your estate are simple, complex or even unusual, the qualified attorneys at Morris Hall can help you put your estate planning documents together to ensure your wishes are carried out. For a free consultation with an estate planning attorney call us today at 888.222.1328.
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