Pauline Olga Emerson Burton listed exactly what she wanted done with her life savings after she died.
“…I give, devise, and bequeath to The Regents of the University of Michigan, …to be converted by and under the direction of the said ‘The Regents’ into a fund to be known and designated as the ‘Pauline Olga Emerson Burton’ Fund,” her last will and testament states.
And included in that were specific donations to the university’s archaeology museum and for student scholarships in Latin.
But while most of her wishes were carried out in the weeks following her July 24, 1965, death — including bequeathing a friend all her small figurines, “including the ceramic dogs and cats” — three accounts totaling about $120,000 inadvertently remained untouched in separate area banks for more than 47 years.
“If a bank account is dormant for a very long time, the bank tries to contact someone. If no one comes forward, then the bank has to give the money to the state,” explained Marsha Manahan, vice president of Fifth Third Private Bank Trust Department. “I was frustrated because Pauline likely had a will and so she had a plan. Having the money go to the state of Ohio was not a part of the plan.”
According to articles in The Blade dating as far back as 1939, Ms. Burton was well-known locally as a Latin teacher at the former Libbey High School and widely recognized for her involvement in the American Classical League. Highly acclaimed in her field and the recipient of numerous awards and commendations, Ms. Burton began teaching at the high school when it opened in 1923 and retired in 1961.
She died four years later at age 70, leaving no survivors, her obituary said.
According to documents in Lucas County Probate Court, Ms. Burton’s assets valued at $92,362.42 were dispersed according to her wishes. The will was then catalogued and the estate considered closed.
That is until Ms. Manahan found statements for bank accounts in Ms. Burton’s name among the effects of a recently deceased attorney for whom she was named executor. They were interest-bearing accounts — although no early statements were available to show exactly how much was earned. Believing that Ms. Burton’s estate was still active, she checked for months in area probate courts to find something — anything — to lead her in the right direction.
“It just kind of sat for a while because I didn’t know where else to go,” she said.
That is until she was directed to the State of Ohio Division of Unclaimed Funds where Ms. Burton’s money had been sent. She then learned that the woman to whom the money belonged died decades earlier.
“An estate in Ohio is supposed to be over and done with in a year,” Ms. Manahan said. “I was looking for an open estate in the name of Pauline Emerson Burton. That’s why no one could find it.”
Nancy Miller, chief magistrate for probate court, said she has never received a call like the one that came recently from Ms. Manahan. Armed with a full name and knowledge that the estate was no longer active, Ms. Miller found Ms. Burton’s will.
“She had as part of her will some specific requests to friends and distant relatives but most of her estate was to go to U of M for an archeological museum and to someone who studied Latin,” she said of Ms. Burton’s four-page will.
“…There is over $100,000 in three different banks that now, since we found everything, will go to U of M for this endowment,” Ms. Miller added.
And with a phone call to the University of Michigan Office of Development, Ms. Manahan set in motion fully executing Ms. Burton’s final wishes, nearly five decades after her death.
University of Michigan officials did not return calls seeking comment.