Celebrity Estate Lessons - Wellington Burt

Landscape view of Saginaw, MI concept
Ever wonder what someone does when they want to keep their estate in the family, but hate all their current relatives? Well, lumber baron and East Saginaw, Michigan mayor Wellington Burt came up with one solution.
When Burt died in 1919, his Will included a "spite clause" stipulating that his estate was not to be disbursed until 21 years after the death of his last grandchild living at the time of Burt's death.
Undoubtedly, his descendants weren't happy. They were able to find a loophole in 1920 because the estate included iron leases in Minnesota. The state had a law that prohibited Trusts lasting that long. About $5 million was distributed at the time. Another $720,000 was taken as part of a settlement in 1961. During the final distribution, the estate was valued around $110 million.
In November 1989, Marion Lansill, Burt's final grandchild, died. In May 2011, 21 years and a few months (the extra time was to allow for legal negotiations) after Lansill's death and 91 years after Burt died, the money was finally distributed.
The money was split between twelve descendants, based on seniority. Amounts ranged from between $2.6 million and $2.9 million to between $14.5 million and $16 million. The ages of his descendants ranged from 19 to 94 including three great-grandchildren, seven great-great-grandchildren, and two great-great-great-grandchildren. None of his inheritors remembered Burt, although the eldest was two when Burt died. 30 of his descendants got nothing because they were ineligible or died before the Will's conditions were met, including his six children, seven grandchildren, six great-grandchildren, and eleven great-great-grandchildren.
His kids were left a small yearly allowance, however; $1000, the same amount he left his cook, coachman, and housekeeper.
Why go to these lengths? No one really knows for sure, but it's suspected that family feuds played a part in the decision. He was estranged from his family at the time of his death, which may have also contributed.
We don't recommend writing spite clauses in your Will, but sometimes seemingly crazy clauses are needed. When that happens, you definitely will want to contact an attorney to make sure everything is done properly. Contact Harrison Estate Law, P.A. to learn more.