Tontine. From Lorenzo Tonti, a late 1600s Italian banker in Paris who invented it; a financial arrangement with a group of participants in which if any one dies, his benefits are distributed to the survivors, last for either a set period of time or until all but one dies.
Huh. And I’d been under the misapprehension for years (saw it in an old mystery) that it was a Viking custom. But it feels like what an Italian banker in Paris would come up with. Or maybe I’ve been reading too many Assassin’s Creed fanfics. You can see how one of these arrangements might lead to hiring an assassin. Or maybe more than one….
Ahem. Inheritances make for an interesting part of your world, culturally and as a story plot. One of the traditional ways to drag a character into a plot against his will is to have him inherit something. Or a friend (or enemy) does, and they’re either roped in as moral support or in a desperate race to stop the dastardly villain before he inherits the long-lost Mystic Powerstone of Shiny Plot Contrivance.
A useful aspect of this kind of involuntary plot involvement is that you can make the inheritance as big, or small, a part of the story as you like. You can just have a Shady Lawyer show up, hiss a few words, drop the Plot Trinket onto the hero’s PI desk, and vanish, never to be seen again. Or you could go so far as to have the hero summoned to the ailing owner’s bedside, and when the guy drops dead an hour later your hero is the first suspect….
Being summoned out to the Spooky Mansion for the reading of the will is a happy medium between these. Especially if your character never met the deceased in his life, and has no idea why he’s named in the will. Possible reasons could range from convenient human sacrifice to activate the Ancient Artifacts, to the deceased knew beforehand that someone was going to try and do him in, wanted retribution from beyond the grave, and picked the Hero to do it.
Even should your character avoid all formal will-readings, he may still be in trouble. At least in the U.S., if a person dies intestate, odds are someone who wants a cut will track down all the potential heirs to try and sort out the legal mess. Put a twist on it, and this could be how your hapless hero finds out he’s one of the few surviving grandchildren of Mild-Mannered Marvin, wealthy philanthropist… and the secret alter-ego of the last known Demon Lord. Oops.
You can even bedevil a character by having them inherit no more than a few dollars from a forgotten trust fund. Because too many people hear “inherit”, and their eyes light up with dollar signs. They’ll never believe it isn’t enough for even a week’s groceries. Never.
(IRL note – if you care about your loved ones, for goodness’ sake, do not die intestate. It leaves an awful mess.
Though honestly I could see that as some Demon Lord’s final revenge….)