A trust created by the second President of the United States, John Adams, to benefit and educate the children of his favorite town, Quincy, Massachusetts, has been subject to recent legal action some 200 years after it was first established.
John Adams created the Adams Temple and School Fund. The trust’s deed, as written in 1822, stipulated that management of the trust must revert back to the oldest living male descendent of John Adams if the city of Quincy, as trustee, has committed gross corruption or mismanagement, notorious negligence or knowingly permitted waste.
The Woodward School for Girls, the trust’s sole beneficiary, has been involved in a decade-long legal battle with the city of Quincy. In response, a Probate Court judge removed the city as trustee of the fund, ruling the city had mismanaged the fund for more than five decades by ignoring prudent investment advice, keeping poor records, making cheap land sales and using some of the fund to pay city workers. He appointed a neutral trustee in the city's place.
Until 1907, the trust benefited Adams Academy, a private all-boys school. For the five decades after the school closed, income from the trust supported the Quincy High School library and the president’s crypt. In 1953, the city moved to name Woodward, the sister school to Adams Academy, as the sole beneficiary.
Early this year, a lawyer representing the family of John Adams, sent a letter to current trustee demanding that he forfeit his role as trustee of the Adams Trust, claiming this trustee was doing no better job than the city had.
Quincy, Massachusetts Mayor Thomas Koch, praised the Adams family’s efforts to gain control of the trust. Koch said that John Adams did not intend for the trust to benefit a private school in which a majority of the students aren’t from Quincy. Currently, less than a third of the students of this school are from that community.
The lesson here is sometimes creating a permanent trust can be problematic. It is hard to anticipate a community's needs 200 years into the future. Michigan still recognizes the common law doctrine of the rule against perpetuities. This old rule states that "no interest is good unless it must vest, if at all, not later than twenty-one years after the death of some life in being at the creation of the interest.” This is why most trusts here are limited to 99 years into the future for the control of property or real estate.
It is hard to imagine that John Adams would have wanted his estate still subject to legal arguments 2 centuries after his death.