Tag Archives: Estate

The Estate Planning Prize Buried in your Breakfast Cereal

The story of the Kellogg brothers – inventors of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes – offers a surprisingly interesting lesson about Estate and Charitable Planning.  Their story is told by historian Howard Markel in “The Kelloggs: The Battling Brothers of Battle Creek”. 

“The Kelloggs” is about food history, business, and family dynamics, but also about the brother’s estate plans and charitable foundations.

John Harvey Kellogg was a medical doctor who founded the Battle Creek Sanitarium in 1886.  The Sanitarium (or “San” for short), located in Battle Creek, Michigan, was a health and wellness resort spa at which John Harvey treated patients and preached his views on health and wellness.  He believed that a healthy breakfast was essential to good health and required his patients to eat his own Toasted Corn Flakes while at the San.  John Harvey was a physician, author, and preacher who became the father of the modern wellness movement. 

The younger Will Keith (W.K.) Kellogg started his career as John Harvey’s business manager but later used his business acumen to commercialize and distribute Toasted Corn Flakes across the country.  He founded the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company, later the Kellogg Company.  He was a successful businessman who revolutionized American food production and the way we eat.

The brothers spent most of their lives at odds with one another – personally and in business.  They spent years litigating who owned the rights to their Toasted Corn Flakes.  (W.K. won, for the most part.)  As a result, both men died unhappy, but wealthy (W.K. considerably more so) and left the bulk of their estates to charities.  Their charitable goals and success at achieving those goals were very different.

Upon his death in 1943, John Harvey left his entire estate to his foundation, the Race Betterment Foundation, which was devoted to promoting eugenics, the science of improving the population’s genetics.  Within twenty years of John Harvey’s death his Foundation’s endowment was depleted because of its controversial and questionable charitable goals as well as trustee misuse.

W.K. had far greater charitable success.  In 1931, he founded the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, a charitable foundation devoted to promoting the welfare, health and education of children.  He was motivated largely by personal tragedy.  His young grandson had fallen out of a window as a toddler, suffered a severe head injury, and required lifelong care.

In 1934, W.K. endowed the Foundation with more than $66 million in Kellogg company stock and other assets.  He left the bulk of his remaining estate to the Foundation at his death in 1951.   The W.K. Kellogg Foundation still exists today with an endowment of over $9.5 billion, one of the largest charitable foundations in existence.  It continues its mission to help vulnerable children, and its headquarters remain in Battle Creek. 

To learn more about how to achieve your charitable goals in your estate plan, consult with a good estate planning attorney.