Talk about ruling from the grave!


When Wellington Burt died, he was one of the richest men in America. He was a self-made man, having earned his fortune in timber and iron. He was philanthropic during his lifetime, sharing his wealth with the people in his community – he built a hospital, an auditorium and a YWCA, among other buildings. There is even a town named after him; you can still visit Burt, Michigan. However, on his death, his children received a grand total of $0. The reason? Burt set up a trust for his assets after his death that was to run until 21 years after the death of his youngest grandchild.

Of course, there is an added twist to this story: Wellington Burt died in 1919. His youngest grandchild at the time of his death, Marion Stone Burt “Tootsie” Landsill, died in 1989 at the age of 87. 21 years from her death just happened, and his estate was distributed this year to three great-grandchildren, seven great-great grandchildren and two great-great-great grandchildren. Those individuals shared $110 million.

Setting up this kind of long-lived trust is possible, but you must be extremely careful not to violate the Rule Against Perpetuities – a rule so complex a judge in California once ruled that even lawyers can’t be expected to understand it. If you want to have a long trust in your will, you absolutely should see a lawyer about having it properly drafted.

You can read a full recap of the Burt story here.