The simple request that his land be forever maintained as a nature preserve has been overshadowed by a legal battle between his executors, who used funds from the estate to pay off debts on the property, and siblings who disagree with the executor’s actions.
Outdoorsman Carl Bergstresser made it very clear by signing a will, days before he died in July 2016, that stated that he wished his 11.6 acre property, located on the Braden River to be maintained in perpetuity as a nature preserve.
The Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported in its recent article, “Outdoorsman’s siblings contest how trustees managed his estate,” that Bradley Magee, the attorney who drafted the will, said the Osprey-based Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast assumed ownership of the land. However, Bergstresser’s dying wish remains the subject of a prolonged legal battle. This question is further complicated by the uncertain outcome of an effort by Manatee County to acquire adjoining land from a developer to create an even larger nature preserve.
Bergstresser’s siblings, Diana and Phil Bergstresser, brought a probate court case that questions how the executors of their brother’s estate managed the assets which he left in addition to his homestead. They claim they’ve been deprived of most of the assets that would’ve remained in the estate, other than the donated land. Aside from his home and land, Carl’s estate is valued at $314,516.
Dated July 16, 2016, Bergstresser’s will states: “My homestead and all acreage owned adjacent to my homestead shall be donated or otherwise transferred to a nonprofit organization or government entity that will maintain such property for wildlife conservation and general conservation purposes on a perpetual or long-term basis.”
Bergstresser permitted his “personal representatives” named in his will—Magee, Phillip St. John, and Donald “Troy” Smith—to choose the nonprofit that would receive his property. The trustees paid a $32,000 mortgage and a $59,000 line of credit that Bergstresser owed from his remaining estate. The siblings say the will doesn’t state that Bergstresser wanted the debt paid out of the money that otherwise would’ve gone to his heirs and that his executors made the payments “without getting a court order.”
Their lawyer also claims the executors took $46,000 from the estate for their “personal representatives’ fees” and about $66,000 for attorney fees—an amount of attorney fees paid by the estate they feel is “excessive.” He also said the court ordered the foundation to return $47,000 to the estate that the trustees paid it as a “stewardship fee” for costs from the closing on the property and putting it in a conservation easement.
Another unknown is an effort to get Manatee County to acquire 32.38 adjoining acres for which a developer received approval for a subdivision. When initially proposed, residents in the neighboring area strongly objected. They argued that the heavily wooded site on the Braden River is an oasis for an abundance of wildlife. They asked the county to acquire it for a nature preserve.
The developer granted the Conservation Foundation an option to buy that land for $3 million, and the foundation is willing to transfer that option to the County.
When Bergstresser learned that he was terminally ill, he decided that he wanted his land to be part of the proposed Braden River Nature Preserve. Now that the foundation has ownership of his property, it will classify it as a “conservation easement” and it will be preserved as he had wished.
Reference: (Sarasota) Herald-Tribune (December 15, 2017) “Outdoorsman’s siblings contest how trustees managed his estate”