Wealthy businessman disinherits family through will

Many Georgia residents use wills and trusts to help plan their financial affairs and pass their wealth to family and friends. Although a typical will leaves money to living relatives and a trust may establish an education fund for future generations, one wealthy industrialist's estate plan is providing for his descendents in an unusual manner.

The descendants of Wellington R. Burt are inheriting his fortune 92 years after his death. Burt died at the age of 87 in 1919 with a fortune from lumber and iron businesses. Instead of giving the fortune to his children, Burt's will provided that the majority of his wealth would be distributed 21 years after his last grandchild died.

Burt's last grandchild died in 1989 and 12 descendants of Burt are entitled to a fortune that is as large as $110 million. It is unclear why Burt established such a lengthy holding period for his money. Perhaps he did not want to donate the money to charity or was incensed by something that his surviving children did.

Press accounts from the time imply that Burt had several familial conflicts and his will left his children up to $5,000 annually except for a son who received $30,000 annually, ABC News reports. One daughter was also disinherited over a disagreement involving her divorce, and some of his household staff members received yearly allowances equal to his children. Burt's children claimed that he was of unsound mind at the time he created the will, but others disagree.

"I think he was kind of a wise old man, kind of foxy. And really, I think knew what he was doing in the long run," a probate judge said.

One commentator said that the "Rule of Perpetuities" may have something to do with the unusual arrangement. The rule places a 21-year limit for the distribution of wealth after the death of the last identifiable living person at the time of the will's creation.

By placing the distribution within the 21-year time frame, Burt achieved his estate planning objectives and successfully prevented his living children from partaking in the majority of his wealth.

Source: ABC News, "$100 Million Finally to Be Split Between Descendants, 92 Years After Rich Relative's Death," Susanna Kim, 5/10/11

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