He called it his “golden egg,” and for 92 years it has been incubating quietly in a trust fund in his hometown of Saginaw, Michigan. However, by the end of this month its shell will crack and out will come a fortune worth up to US$110 million, enriching people he never knew and bringing to an end the saga of one of the strangest bequests in US history.
The “golden egg” belonged to one Wellington Burt, a fabulously wealthy Michigan lumber tycoon who was, according to the account of his contemporaries, brilliant, crotchety and eccentric in equal measure.
When he died in 1919, aged 87, he had a multimillion-dollar fortune to give away and was expected to provide handsomely for his family and for the various Saginaw causes that he espoused.
It was not to be. Nobody quite knows why — some say it was the result of petty gripes against family members, others that he was a sour old man who wanted to wreak his revenge beyond the grave — but Burt wrote one of the most peculiar wills that probate lawyers can remember.
The “golden egg,” he said, would remain in its nest for 21 years after the death of his last surviving grandchild.
The last of his grandchildren alive when he died was Marion Lansill, and she passed away in November 1989, thus starting the 21-year countdown that ended in November last year. Since then, a local judge in charge of the trust fund has been poring over 30 applications from individuals eager to share in the spoils.
The Saginaw News reports that at the end of the judge’s research, 12 people will divide up the golden egg, now estimated after interest to be worth between US$100 million and US$110 million.
The beneficiaries form a disparate group, from the east to west coasts of the US. The sum they receive varies greatly too. The greatest individual profit is US$16 million and the least US$2.9 million.
The youngest of the 12 heirs, Christina Cameron, 19, who will receive almost US$3 million, as will her sister Cory, told the Saginaw News that she had mixed feelings about the windfall as she had seen the pain it caused her forebears.
First her grandfather had been due to inherit, but he died two years ago. Then her mother was in line, but she died aged 50 in February last year.
“I guess all of this happening within a year made this seem more like a curse,” Cameron said. “My grandfather was pretty excited about it and then my mother was pretty excited about it as well. Cory and I are not as excited.”