PropertyProf Blog

Editor: Stephen Clowney
Univ. of Arkansas, Fayetteville

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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  

October 3, 2011 in Estates In Land, Future Interests and the RAP, Home and Housing, Trusts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Strand on Inheriting Inequality

Palma Joy Strand (Creighton) has posted Inheriting Inequality: Wealth, Race, and the Laws of Succession on SSRN.  Here's the abstract:

The article begins by documenting deep inequality in the form of Black-White wealth disparities: While the overall wealth distribution in the United States is highly unequal from both historical and international perspectives, racial wealth disparities are particularly acute, with median Black net worth approximately a tenth of median White net worth (as compared to median Black income that is approximately two-thirds of median White income). Next, the article ties the perpetuation of this inequality to current inheritance law. It then confronts this inequality as a civil rights issue in terms of its social effects, its historical causes, and legal avenues for attacking it. Finally, the article proposes two changes in our laws of succession to address this contemporary manifestation of White advantage and Black disadvantage. First, the article explains how civil rights considerations support existing proposals that inheritances be taxed as windfall income to those who receive them (as are lottery winnings currently). Second, the article identifies a need for revising intestacy law to provide heirs with clear title to assets, especially homes belonging to families of modest wealth whose wealth is primarily the value of those homes.

 

Ben Barros

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March 30, 2011 in Estates In Land, Future Interests and the RAP, Recent Scholarship, Trusts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)