Tuesday, May 10, 2011

That's what I call a generation-skipping trust

Wellington R. Burt, lumber baron of Saginaw, Michigan, tied up his fortune in what we today would call a generation-skipping trust. His children received annual stipends of just $1,000 (about $12,000 in 2011 dollars).  The trust continued until 21 years after the deaths of two grandchildren, both living at the time of Burt's death in 1919.  As the last death occurred 21 years ago, the trust will be "opened" according to news accounts later this month.  Reportedly, teams of lawyers have hammered out a distribution settlement for the trust, which holds $100 million or so. By definition, the heirs will be people who never met the man, they were all born after his death.  What an odd legacy.  The smallest portion is over $2 million.

First of a four-part series on the story is here.

Interesting that the trust succeeded according to Burt's terms.  Rule against perpetuities satisfied, check.  Long before the advent of the generation-skipping transfer tax, so no federal tax revenues generation by this distribution, check. But what would have happened to Burt legacy had he shared the wealth with the next generation?  Might the Burt family be as famous as the Rockefellers or Kennedys?  Burt was, reportedly, the eighth richest American at one time.

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