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Editor: Stephen Clowney
Univ. of Kentucky College of Law

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Monday, October 3, 2011

Don't Sell This Home. Ever.

Mansion


Here's a property story from my local paper.  Heiress Emma Watts grew up in creepy-looking mansion in Richmond, Kentucky.  During her life, the local university (Eastern Kentucky U.), repeatedly attempted to purchase the property from her.  The relationship between Emma and EKU deteriorated, and she refused to sell.

Here's the propety angle: When Watts died in 1970, her will specified that the mansion could never be sold. She left a trust fund to pay for basic upkeep and, for four decades, no one has touched the building or its furnishings. The will reads:

(The trustee) shall have no power or authority to sell or in any manner hypothecate any of my real estate located in Madison County, Kentucky, or any of the furniture, furnishings, linens, china, silver, glassware, books, ornaments or other tangible personal property located in Elmwood at the time of my death. . . .   It is my primary testamentary intention to preserve my residence, “Elmwood,” and to maintain it in its present condition, in so far as is possible, for the benefit of my cousins, Margaret Kilgore Cope, Millard Lewis Cope, Jr., and Margaret Parhan Cope.

Yet, the estate's trustee and Watts' remaining cousins recently deduced that while Elmwood could not legally be sold to the university, they could donate it.  In return for the gift, EKU plans give the estate $400,000 to cover the cost of recent improvements.
This seems problematic on many levels. Most obviously, given the context, the "donation" seems to violate the testator's intent. Also, If the cousins were so eager to monetize the property, I'm surprised they didn't make a restraint on alienation argument or push to diversity the trust holdings under duty of care. 
Steve Clowney  

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