Just because a man is dead and buried does not mean he cannot have his wishes fulfilled. In William Payne's case, his dying wishes are being carried out even after 351 years.
Eight days before he died on October 10, 1660, Payne made a will on his deathbed in which he donated 35 acres of seafront land. A charitable trust, currently the oldest one in the US, was created to use the land and channel the funds to public schools in Ipswich, MA. The will makes it clear that the land cannot be sold or wasted.
The will has been followed as far as the letter of the law is concerned. But the gross mismanagement of the land by the trustees and the resulting lack of revenue underlines the fact that William Payne's intention behind making the will and donating the land is not being met.
A Massachusetts court now faces a very tricky legal question – should they uphold the express intent of the will prohibiting sale of the property, or allow the sale and use the proceeds to fulfill William Payne's dying wish that his land should generate revenue to be used for charity?
However, tenants on the land have built 167 cottages. They were assured by the trust that rent would remain low and would not be hiked. The trustees then turned around and hiked the rent in 2005. This resulted in a lawsuit filed by the cottage owners. Any settlement to this lawsuit will be expensive for the trust, which will have to shell out millions whether they win or lose.
The trust wants to sell the land to solve the mess. The state agrees, and the schools that get the funds have no objection either because the sale proceeds will ensure they get a steady stream of money. But objections are being raised by people who say the will is sacrosanct and should be left intact.