The San Francisco Foundation: The Dilemma of The Buck Trust (A)

The San Francisco Foundation: The Dilemma of The Buck Trust (A)

By
Robert Augsburger, Victoria, Chang, William Meehan III
1998|Case No.SI106A

When Beryl Buck, a Marin County, California widow, died on May 30, 1975 at the age of 75, she left $7.6 million “for exclusively nonprofit charitable, religious or educational purposes in providing care for the needy in Marin County, California, and for other nonprofit charitable, religious or educational purposes in that county.” For many years, Buck and her husband, a physician, had lived in Ross, a wealthy town in Marin County, just north of San Francisco.

When Buck died, the money was mostly invested in Belridge Oil stock. The oil company was privately held and owned land that was rich in heavy crude oil reserves in Southern California. By the time the lengthy probate proceedings had ended, Belridge Oil had been sold to Shell Oil Company and the total amount in the Buck Trust skyrocketed from $7.6 million to $260 million.

Under options contained in the will, Wells Fargo Bank and John Elliot Cook, Buck’s attorney, were appointed investment co-trustees, with the San Francisco Foundation (“the Foundation”) having the authority to direct distributions of income. The will also provided that “income shall always be distributed not later than the end of the year following the year of receipt.” This provision would have ramifications for the Foundation’s strategy and distribution of funds. This case study discusses what happened to the Buck Trust money and the constituents involved.

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