The Curse of the “Golden Egg”

Wellington R. Burt was a wealthy United States lumber baron. For a time in the early 1900s, Burt ranked as one of the eight wealthiest men in the United States. Best known for his lumber mills and timber holdings, he also had interest in iron mining, railroads, salt mines and finances.

By most accounts Burt was brilliant, crotchety and eccentric in equal measure. He was Mayor of East Saginaw (1867–68) and member of the Michigan Senate (1893–94). In his final years he became increasingly estranged from friends and family earning the nickname “The Lone Pine of Michigan”, he died aged 87

Owing to either gripes against family members, or that that he wanted to wreak his revenge beyond the grave —Burt included a provision in his Will that he referred to as his “golden egg”, which would remain in its nest for 21 years after the death of his last surviving grandchild.

Except for a “favourite son” who received $30,000 a year from the bequest, Burt left his other children the same annual allowance as he left his cook, housekeeper and coachman.

Burt’s six children, seven grandchildren, six great-grandchildren and 11 great-great grandchildren got nothing, either because they died while the “golden egg” lay dormant or because they were deemed ineligible.

Marion Lansill the last of his grandchildren alive when he died passed away in November 1989, thus starting the 21-year countdown that ended in November 2010.

12 people split the golden egg, now estimated after interest to be worth between $100m and $110m.

None of the 12 aged between 19 and 94, who received payouts of between $2.9 and $16 million depending on their proximity to Mr Burt on the family tree.  None of them knew Burt, though the eldest of the group was two years old when he died.

Some of his heirs had mixed feelings and having lived through the pain that it caused their loved ones believed that the “golden egg” seemed more like a curse. However the probate judge overseeing the process, thought it showed that Burt was “kind of a wise old man, kind of foxy, and really, I think knew what he was doing in the long run”.

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