Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Thursday, June 15, 2017

New York Banking Royalty’s Heirs Are Unloading Art to Save the Family Estate

WestfeldJames Jewett Stillman, born June 1850 and died March 1918, was one of the original founders of National City Bank—later Citibank—and died with an estimated worth of over $1.6 billion dollars (2017 dollars). Part of Stillman’s family legacy is the magnificent estate of Wethersfield. Nestled amongst rolling hills a short 95 miles from New York City, the grounds feature sculpted terraces, ornate fountains, and immaculately crafted and maintained gardens. Stillman’s descendants had thought the estate safely shielded from bankruptcy through trustees’ efforts at the Homeland Foundation. Unfortunately, this was not the case.

According to state investigation and their own eventual admissions, trustees of the estate squandered away millions of dollars in foundation assets on personal interests. They gave trust money to private schools their children attended and to their former alma maters. As part of a legal agreement, the unscrupulous trustees agreed to compensate the foundation at a cost of $4.4 million. Despite this, the estate is still running dangerously low on funds. A stopgap, the Stillman heirs have been reduced to auctioning off their ancestors’ beloved pieces of art. Christie’s will host the auction of works by Degas, Sargent, Lancret, and others. The new trustees hope to raise enough money to infuse at least $20 million into the lethargic foundation.

This loss of fortune over successive generations has become a common cautionary tale. In some cases, heirs may simply not have the education or skills required to manage large sums of money or the background to recognize when trustees are frittering away assets. Regardless of an heir’s capacity or ability, this case represents the extreme importance in choosing trustees and a trust that will look to a settlor’s best interest even after their passing.

See Katya Kazakina, New York Banking Royalty’s Heirs Are Unloading Art to Save the Family Estate, Bloomberg, April 4, 2017.

Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse (Professional Legal Marketing (PLM, Inc.)) for bringing this article to my attention.


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