One of the hottest conversation topics in Saginaw, Michigan right now is "Wellington's Millions"— the $100 million estate left by dead old lumber baron Wellington Burt, who didn't want any of his immediate descendants to inherit his fortune because he was kind of crazy and vengeful and mean.
In his hand-written will, signed in 1917, Burt—who was either a "lumber baron" or a "lumber king," depending on your preference—wrote that he wanted to postpone the distribution of his $100 million fortune until his last surviving grandchild had been dead for 21 years. That last surviving grandchild died in 1989. Now it's money-money time for the remaining 12 Burt descendants, who will each receive millions of dollars without ever having even met the spiteful old man (to their benefit, it seems).
It all sounds like a wonderful dream, doesn't it? It's like winning the Lucky Lotto, but better because you don't have to invest anything upfront—right?
Wrong, says Burt's great-great-great-granddaughter, Christina Alexander Cameron. Events leading up to Wellington's Windfall "made this seem more like a curse ... My grandfather was pretty excited about it, and then my mother was pretty excited about it as well. Cory [her sister] and I are not as excited."
Why Burt disliked his immediate offspring so much to deprive them of his hard-earned millions is not not entirely clear, but apparently he had some control issues (a common problem among spiteful, vengeful barons of industry):
Press accounts imply that Wellington Burt experienced familial conflicts, which led to the unusual will. Burt had left his children $1,000 to $5,000 annually, relatively small amounts, except for a "favorite son" who he gave $30,000 annually, according to The Saginaw News.
Burt, however, canceled a $5,000 annuity to one of his daughters over a disagreement about her divorce, the newspaper reported.
Through a trust, he left his secretary $4,000 annually and a cook, housekeeper, coachman and chauffeur each received $1,000 annually.
Well, at least he took care of the help.
As for the "21 years" stipulation in Burt's will, a lawyer named Danielle Mayoras suggests that it's got something to do with the rule against perpetuities. As someone who went to law school, I'd say this is probably correct, even though I never came to understand this rule. (It has something to do with 21 years, and property, though; go here and see if you can figure it out, then let me know how it works.)
What would you do if you were blessed with some portion of Wellington's Millions? Most of the respondents to an online survey told pollsters they'd donate the money to charity, but some said they'd move to Tucson or Alaska or just "GET IT ALL IN CASH AND DIG A BIG HOLE," in all-caps. We'd pay off our law school debt, then dig a big hole. [ABC News, Michigan Live, photo of Burt via AP]