Twin Cities outdoor enthusiasts will be familiar with the waterproof fabric Gore-Tex. The success of the popular material amassed a sizeable inheritance for the heirs of its inventor. That fortune led to a bizarre trust dispute that recently came to an end with a state Supreme Court decision.
In 1972, the inventor and his wife established a trust to hold company stock for the benefit of their children and grandchildren. Four of the inventor's five children had four children of their own. The fifth child only had three children. Under the terms of the trust, a smaller share of stock would pass to the family of the fifth daughter.
In an attempt to increase her family's share of the inheritance, the fifth daughter legally adopted her 65-year-old ex-husband so that her family would consist of four "children." The ex-husband signed a written agreement promising that he would not keep his share of the stock, but was only helping his children get their fair share.
However, the ex-husband later decided that he wanted to keep his stock share, and the daughter of the Gore-Tex inventor began proceedings to revoke the adoption. Complicating matters, the inventor's wife died before the daughter could annul the adoption. The wife's death activated the trust provisions and made the adopted ex-husband a presumptive beneficiary of trust assets.
The court decided to enforce the ex-husband's agreement not to keep any stock share. The daughter then pressed the court to recognize the adoption and keep the ex-husband's share in her family.
However, the high court ruled that even if the adoption was legal, recognizing the ex-husband as a beneficiary would defeat the intent of the trust document. The court concluded that the use of the word "grandchild" in the trust instrument demonstrated the founders' intent to limit the class of beneficiaries to those with a parent-child relationship.
The Gore-Tex case demonstrates how greed can lead to litigation even when trust terms seem clear. Minnesotans concerned about the proper distribution of trust assets will want to be aware of the legal options available for ensuring that a trust is administered according to its founder's intent.
Source: Forbes, "Gore-Tex Heiress' Adoption Of Ex-Husband Fails To Score More Stock," Danielle and Andy Mayoras, May 30, 2012