Grace Austin died in 1951, more than a decade after husband, Ned. The couple had no children. No direct descendants to ensure Grace’s wishes were fulfilled 57 years later. She left $10,000 in a trust at First National Bank of Canton to invest on her behalf -- and in the process, put the bank in charge of caring for the graves.
No one brings flowers to Grace Austin any more.
No hyacinths, peonies or even spruce, which are supposed to adorn grave sites of her and her husband, Ned, for eternity.
To some, it’s probably no surprise.
Grace Austin died in 1951, more than a decade after Ned. The couple had no children. No direct descendants to ensure Grace’s wishes were fulfilled 57 years later. What the Austins had, though, was money. Lots of money. When she died, Grace gave most of it to friends, extended family and good causes.
Except for $10,000 that she entrusted to First National Bank of Canton to invest on her behalf -- and in the process, put the bank in charge of caring for the graves.
She wrote explicit directions in her will: $10 worth of potted hyacinths on Easter; $10 worth of red peonies on Decoration Day (Memorial Day); $10 worth of chrysanthemums on the Sunday nearest her husband¹s Oct. 12 birthday, delivered to The First Presbyterian Church of Canton; and $10 worth of red and green live spruce in the stone vase on the grave marker at Christmas, then left in place all year.
Since her death, First National was enveloped by Bank One, which in turn was purchased by JPMorgan Chase, one of the largest financial institutions in the world. Grace’s cemetery trust account went along for the ride with those bank sales.
Today, her trust fund at JPMorgan Chase is worth $91,000.
Problem is, JPMorgan is not holding up its end of the deal.
The bank is not placing flowers on the Austin graves in West Lawn Cemetery.
Since taking over the trust in 2005, JPMorgan has managed Grace’s money.
Last year, it charged Grace $2,690 in fees to invest her money. Despite those fees, the bank still managed to grow the value of her trust by a couple thousand dollars.
In January, JPMorgan asked Stark County Probate Judge Dixie Park if it could close the account, calling it “uneconomical.”
JPMorgan’s local attorney, Daniel Griffith, asked to donate the entire $91,0000 to the Canton Cemetery Association, which runs West Lawn and North Lawn cemeteries. The association could then spend the cash however it chose.
Claude Shriver, president of the cemetery board, said he’d never heard of Grace Austin until contacted by Griffith. But he figured the board could use most of the money to renovate the West Lawn office. Shriver said he planned to ask the board to re-name the office to honor the Austins and to begin placing those flowers on their graves.
“I didn’t know anything about the flowers until all this. ... If we’d have known, we’d have made sure it was done,² he said, adding it currently isn’t the cemetery’s responsibility. It’s JPMorgan’s, because the bank is trustee of her money.
The Austins came to Canton from Leechburg, Pa., in 1908.
He worked as the chief metallurgist, a metals engineer, at United
Engineering and Foundry on the city’s northeast side. The couple settled into a home on 18th Street NW. He died in 1937, but through a series of investments, left his wife with what amounted to a small fortune at the time, a nest egg that grew even more after his death.
A socialite, she was a member of First Presbyterian Church, Congress Lake Club, Garden Club and the Canton Woman’s Club.
When Grace died at age 75 in 1951, she was worth more than $500,000. To put it in perspective, that’s equivalent to $4.2 million in today’s dollars. She owned stock in dozens of companies, from United Foundry to Coca-Cola. She
also had amassed a pile of fine possessions: Solid silver and gold pieces, a Persian lamb coat, mahogany furnishings, diamonds rings, watches, pins and bracelets, a bronze cigar stand, fine china and collector figurines.
Grace left it all to distant relatives and friends and to her housekeeper -- and set up trust funds for her church, cancer work and the graves at the cemetery.
Last month, Judge Park denied JPMorgan’s request to dissolve the trust.
She ruled that Grace’s wishes are ultra-clear. Grace left money for the flowers, period. Park said there’s plenty of money in the account to carry out those wishes, and that’s what should be done. In the judge’s decision, she subtly chided JPMorgan:
“The goal of the Trust may be achieved in a more practical and equitable manner by making changes that would reduce trustee fees. Termination, however, is not necessary. For example, the assets may be deposited into lower maintenance investment accounts to reduce trustee fees ... the trust assets were held in (20) different bond and equity accounts.”
JPMorgan will not comment on a specific trust account, said Katrina Clay, a spokeswoman for the private client services arm of the business in New York.
As for the missing flowers?
“The trustee is concerned about that,” said Griffith, the attorney.
Griffith is aware that flowers have not been placed, at least in the recent past, though he’s not sure how long the graves have been ignored.
Part of the reason, he said, is that the $10 increments specified by Grace make it difficult, because of inflation. After all, $10 worth of flowers then is the same as $80 worth of flowers now. JPMorgan is handcuffed to the $10 amount. And is that $10 just for the flowers? If so, it’s probably only enough for a stem or two at a time. Or does it include delivery? It’s open to legal interpretation, Griffith said.
So, not only will JPMorgan continue to manage the trust, Griffith plans to ask the judge to amend Grace’s request. Griffith said the bank wants to increase the amount it can spend on flowers to ensure her wishes are fulfilled.
Reach Canton Repository staff writer Tim Botos at (330) 580-8333 or e-mail: email@example.com