Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

Thursday, July 16, 2020

The Mystery of the Millionaire Hermit

EugeneHe spent years scrimping and saving. But without a will, where's his money going? 

On the afternoon of August 22, 2015, Dale Tisserand and Melani Rodrigue opened the front door to a small White House in Corning, California. 

The women, who'd been given the keys by local police, are investigators for the office of the Tehama County Public Administrator. They knew the owner had died in the house the previous week and that his name was Eugene Brown. 

The neighborhood mail carrier was the one who'd called the police. Every day Brown would wait for her in a chair by his door, and the two would exchange pleasantries. However, over the past five days, the mail carrier had not seen him. 

It was determined that Mr. Brown had died of a stroke, but not before breaking his nose in a nasty fall. Police searched the house for a will and contact information for family and friends, but had no luck and therefore reached out to Tisserand and Rodrigue.

Many counties in the U.S. have public administrators, though a lot of people don’t know they exist. Public administrators in California usually report to the district attorney’s office, the sheriff, or some other county agency. 

Eugene Brown's story could be anyones, as 56% of Americans don't have a will, according to a 2016 Gallup poll. Prince, Aretha Franklin, Martin Luther King Jr., and even Abraham Lincoln all died intestate. 

Rodrigue and Tisserand may have never met Brown, but through their work they came to know him as a solitary, thoughtful man who counted his cousin and investment adviser as his only friends. And yet a different set of people, those with the highest concentration of his DNA coursing through their veins, are the ones who received his wealth.

See Claire Martin, The Mystery of the Millionaire Hermit, Bloomberg, April 27, 2019. 


Estate Planning - Generally, Intestate Succession, Wills | Permalink


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