Friends of mine recently visited the Hearst Castle during a road trip along the Californian coast. When I spoke to them upon their return, they mentioned that the property has an interesting link to wills, trusts and estates, which immediately got me interested.
William Randolph Hearst was an American media magnate who, during his lifetime, created a massive publishing empire of newspapers and magazines, many of which are still in existence today. In the later part of his life, Hearst built an over 60,000 square foot castle on 127 acres of land near San Simeon, California. Interestingly, the castle was the inspiration for the “Xanadu” mansion of the film Citizen Kane, which was loosely based on Hearst’s life and career.
When Hearst died in 1951, he left an extensive will which divided his estate into three trusts: one for his widow, one for his sons, and one for the Hearst Foundation for Charitable Purposes. He created a board of 13 trustees, comprised of five Hearst family members and eight current or former Hearst Corporation executives. The board, among other things, is responsible for making yearly distributions to beneficiaries.
Hearst’s will also included a disposition of the castle, which was then valued at $30 million. The castle was originally left to the University of California, who declined the gift due to the exorbitant maintenance costs involved with its ownership. In 1957, the Hearst Corporation donated the castle to California’s state government, who have made it into a state and national historic landmark open for public tours.
Another interesting aspect of Hearst’s will is that it included a disposition to any children he might have conceived out of wedlock. Having been accused of this throughout his life, he challenged his accusers by including in his will a disposition to anyone who could prove "that he or she is a child of mine . . . the sum of one dollar. I hereby declare that any such asserted claim . . . would be utterly false." No one has ever claimed the dollar.