Trusts & Estates

Perpetuities Rule Finally Ends $100M Waiting Game for Lumber Baron's Heirs, 92 Years After His Death

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Remember the rule against perpetuities? It played out in real life concerning a cantankerous Michigan lumber baron’s will, finally putting an end to a $100 million waiting game for his heirs.

Not allowed to collect their share of Wellington Burt’s fortune until 21 years after the death of his youngest grandchild in existence when the patriarch cashed in his chips, the 12 great-, great-great- and great-great-great-grandchildren among Burt’s surviving descendants are expected to see his trust open by the end of the month, the Associated Press reported. The heirs range in age from 19 to 94 years old.

Burt died in 1919.

As many attorneys will remember from their first-year property law course, the rule against perpetuities prevents estate distributions from dragging on endlessly, requiring a property interest conveyed in a will to vest, if at all, within 21 years of the death of individuals already in existence at the time of the testator’s death.

Settling Burt’s probate estate, however, was easier said than done. Described by Saginaw County Chief Probate Judge Patrick McGraw as “one of the most complicated research projects” he’s had to deal with in his 12 years on the bench there, the matter involved negotiations among some 20 attorneys before property division terms were agreed upon last month.

A lengthy Saginaw News article details Burt’s life. Reportedly, he revised his will to eliminate millions in public bequests after Saginaw officials raised the assessed valuation on a property he owned there from $400,000 to $1 million a few years before he died.

Related coverage: “What’s Your Favorite Law and Why?” “States’ Repeal of Rule Against Perpetuities Creates US Aristocracy, Law Prof Says”

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