Genealogy Today, by Betty Lou Malesky, CG
Millionaires Can't Take It with Them Either
Two eccentric millionaires have been in the news lately, one who didn't want his heirs to have his money and one who didn't care about the money herself. Genealogists were given the task of deciding who was entitled to inherit in the first case, and may wind up with the second.
The first death occurred nearly 100 years ago. When Wellington R. Burt, a Michigan lumber baron, died in March 1919 in Saginaw at age 87, he did not want any of his living family to inherit. His will bequeathed only small amounts - the Saginaw News reported his "favorite son" received $30,000 annually - other children got only $1000 to $5000 per year. The balance of his $20 million estate was to be held in trust until 21 years after the death of his youngest grandchild. That death occurred in November 1989.
By now the estate is worth in excess of $100 million. Thirty descendants began legal proceedings to claim a share in the money. Genealogical researchers went to work and reduced the number of heirs to twelve, each of whom is to receive between 2.6 and 16 million dollars.
Those inheriting are from 19 to 94 years of age and live in eight different states. One of the beneficiaries, 19 year old Christina Cameron told the Saginaw News, "I'd rather not rely on it. I'll probably just save it. I don't know; it's just not as big of a deal to me as it was to most of my family."
The second newsworthy millionaire is Huguette Clark. A recluse not seen in public for about 50 years, she has lived in New York City hospitals since the 1980s. She died on May 24th at the age of 104. She was the child of copper baron William Andrews Clark, said in the early 20th century to be the second richest American after John D. Rockefeller. Her fortune is now estimated at 500 million dollars.
Clark's father married for the second time when he was in his 60s and had two daughters. The elder daughter died at age 16. The youngest, Huguette, married in 1928 and divorced in 1930. She never remarried and had no children. Her four older half-siblings died many years ago. Recently a half-nephew and two half-nieces petitioned the New York Courts to look into her welfare.
Her financial affairs have been handled by an accountant and a lawyer who have both received sizable "gifts" from her, including a $10,000 dollhouse for the attorney's grandchild. The accountant was convicted in 2008 of attempting to distribute pornography to young girls in an AOL chatroom. The District Attorney's Elder Abuse unit is now investigating her financial affairs.
Clark owns the largest apartment in New York City, 42 rooms worth over $100 million in an exclusive building on Fifth Avenue. She also has a $100 million mansion in Santa Barbara and a $20 million mansion in Connecticut. The Washington Post reports she once said wealth was a "menace to happiness."
Her relatives were barred from her burial service attended only by funeral home employees. It's rumored that she made a will, but it has not yet been filed. Since she has no direct heirs, this may be another case for the genealogists to puzzle over.
Fortunately, most of us, eccentric or not, don't have to worry about distributing millions of dollars to our heirs. We all have something to leave behind, however, and these cases demonstrate the importance of making our own decisions while we can. Otherwise, the courts may hire strange genealogists to do it for us.
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5 June 2011