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Building family wealth with trusts while avoiding probate fights

Trusts can be an important means of passing wealth on to succeeding generations. Minnesota residents may be interested to know that one of the heirs to the largest private company in the world, Minneapolis-based Cargill, has died. He was worth an estimated $2.6 billion and was known as a great supporter of education and culture in his community. The man and his brother were beneficiaries of family wealth that was passed down to four generations of Cargill and MacMillans, nine of whom still own about 88 percent of the company.

The great-grandfather of the deceased man founded Cargill in 1865 as a small grain storage company. The family-owned business took advantage of the agricultural and railroad expansions of post-Civil War America. The company has grown to be an international processor of agricultural goods with $120 billion in revenue and 130,000 employees across the world. Though the family no longer runs the daily operations of the company, its wealth has been assiduously managed and passed down to the current generation.

The success of this family in accumulating and transmitting its wealth through succeeding generations speaks to the importance of good estate planning. Nevertheless, this family's commitment to the arts (having donated tens of millions of dollars) creates special circumstances that require detailed investigation and forethought in order to avoid subsequent problems with probate. Most Minnesota residents are not heirs to a billion-dollar family fortune; however, for those with wealth that can be passed on, it is important to do proper estate planning. This type of planning is crucial not only to accomplish specific bequests but also to ensure that any probate process itself will go smoothly and without an unnecessary and expensive will contest.

Persons who are thinking of setting up trusts to pass on to their children and grandchildren may well benefit from consulting a Minnesota attorney knowledgeable in probate and estate administration. And those individuals who encounter or anticipate probate litigation may also gain by having an experienced attorney in their corner. The lawyer can look for problems before they occur and work to resolve them without litigation. Failing that, legal consultation can help in preparing a meaningful presentation aimed at convincing the court to do the right thing.

Source:, "Philanthropist, company heir Cargill MacMillan Jr. dies," Kate McGinty, Nov. 15, 2011

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