As reported by the Wall Street Journal and others, Wellington R. Burt, a Michigan lumber baron once left his heirs an estate valued at between $40 and $90 million in 1919 dollars.
The trouble is, the heirs he left it to only just now received it.
The baron left the bulk of his property in trust for the better part of 90 years, which was the maximum amount of time permitted according to the Rule Against Perpetuities, an ancient rule in Anglo-American jurisprudence that states that any property interest in trust must vest, if at all, within 21 years from a life in being at the time of the creation of the interest.
The lumber baron's will played the Rule out to its longest possible time, which looks like an odd way to deal with an estate. He willed it after all to complete strangers who had no other reason to even know who he was.
Okay, so what?
Many an estate planner has clients who have created trusts stretching out to the maximum amount of time permitted by the rule.
The case of Wellington Burt demonstrates that doing so can often create an absurdity. Absent compelling reasons to do so (such as tax considerations), and all things being equal, estates are better left in beneficiaries' hands sooner rather than later. The "dead hand" controlling for four or five generations makes little sense to a testator, to his beneficiaries, or to the casual observer.
Additionally, as the editors of the Estate Professors' Blog point out, the "dead hand" appears to have little sense for investments. Citizens Bank Wealth Management, the institutional trustee who managed the trust is only distributing $110 million in present-day dollars. Even given a modest historical rate of return, Burk's estate should have been worth as much as 1,000 times that amount, or some $138 billion by this point.
Tanner Pittman, LLC is a West Georgia law firm that specializes in estate services, civil litigation, and legal transactions.
Estate & Probate Blogs
Atlanta Probate Lawyer Blog
Alpharetta Probate Law Blog
Death and Taxes (the blog)
Florida Estate Planning Lawyer Blog
Georgia Wills, Trusts, and Estates Blog
Minnesota Estate Planning and Probate
North Carolina Estate Planning Blog
Ohio Estate Law Blog
San Diego Estate Center
Trial and Heirs
Wills and Estates Professors' Blog
Other Law Blogs