Each one of us leaves a legacy, either through careful planning, including estate planning, or by failing to plan. What kind of legacy we leave is up to us.
The controversial legacy of a lumber tycoon from Michigan has reemerged 92 years after his death. Twelve heirs of Wellington Burt who he never met will be splitting an inheritance of more than $100 million because his will required the bulk of his wealth to remain undistributed in trust until 21 years after the death of the last grandchild born before his death. While this turn of events may be a happy circumstance for those 12 heirs, what is the cost to Mr. Burt’s legacy?
Mr. Burt left his children limited annual payments from his vast wealth following his death due to a breakdown in his relationships with all but one of his children — one son received a substantial income from the trust. Rather than leave the assets for his children, his grandchildren, or charity, he chose to leave most of his assets outright to descendants he would never know.
His descendants felt cheated and repeatedly went to court (mostly unsuccessfully) to force the distribution of the estate. We will never know the full impact of his decisions on his relationships with his children and grandchildren and on their lives and their relationships.
Now twelve descendants Mr. Burt never knew will receive outright distributions in the millions. What effect will the money have on those descendants? Will they use their portion of the legacy wisely? Or will the legacy be wasted? Mr. Burt abdicated any responsibility for this legacy and left it up to chance.
What kind of legacy do you want to leave?
In Part II of this post, we will talk about the questions Mr. Burt should have asked in his estate planning to ensure a fruitful legacy and how everyday people can benefit from asking these same questions.
If you would like to read more about Wellington Burt and his legacy, you can find articles at http://www.mlive.com/news/saginaw/index.ssf/2011/05/wellingtons_millions_92_years.html.