Even great amounts of family wealth, can easily be lost by future generations who do not preserve and add to it as the original wealth generator did.
James Jewett Stillman's greatest lasting achievement was running the bank that eventually grew into Citigroup. However, he had another legacy.
Stillman also had a large and valuable collection of art and an estate he wanted to be preserved for use by the public. If everything had gone according to plan, the art and the estate would have been preserved for generations.
However, everything did not go according to plan.
His heirs are now trying to auction off the art, because they need the money to save the estate, as Bloomberg reports in "New York Banking Royalty's Heirs Are Unloading Art to Save the Family Estate."
The source of the problem, in this case, appears to be that trustees who were charged with running the estate have squandered millions of dollars over the years. The estate's funds have run so low, that the heirs have no choice but to sell something. Therefore, they have chosen to sell the art.
The immediate lesson to be learned? It is very important to choose trustees carefully and to make sure that trust documents are carefully crafted to make squandering money difficult.
However, there is also a more important lesson that wealth does not last forever, unless it is properly maintained. Had it not been the trustees who squandered the wealth in this case, it might have been the future heirs.
Reference: Bloomberg (April 4, 2017) "New York Banking Royalty's Heirs Are Unloading Art to Save the Family Estate."