The dividend millionaires mentioned on the site usually fit a certain profile. That is to say, long-lived, frugal to the point of obsession, and typically childless. Indeed, their eccentricities often explain what drives them to accumulate all that wealth in the first place. Without them, we probably never hear their stories.
In that sense, the story of former Union Pacific billing clerk Jack Gsantner is not much different. A relative of Gsantner’s pinned his attitude toward money on his upbringing during the Great Depression. “He never dressed like he had a dime”, is how one neighbor put it. Indeed, that might well have been most folks’ impression of him right up until the day he died. Gsantner’s estate, which appeared to consist almost entirely of his Nebraska home, sported an initial valuation of circa $125,000.
That was before the treasure trove was unearthed, because within the confines of Jack Gsantner’s home a stack consisting of dozens of stock certificates was found. The list of assets under his ownership, which included over eighty companies and mutual funds in total, included household names like Exxon Mobil and AT&T.
In addition to his stocks and funds, the representatives of his estate found numerous Omaha bank accounts. Each one contained over $100,000 in cash. The final piece of his empire? A $115,000 townhouse located in Arizona of all places. Gsantner’s records indicated that he had owned around twenty rental properties in total at one point. Once everything found its way into the open, the total value of the estate came to just over $5m. My guess is that means Gsantner was clearing over $2,000 per week in cumulative interest and dividend payments. And with the possible exception of his late wife, nobody ever even knew about it.
Aside from his secret millionaire status, the other remarkable aspect of this case is what happened to Gsantner’s assets after he died. Almost without fail each of the dividend millionaire cases to date involved clearly thought out charitable donations. But not this one. Firstly, it took the representatives of his estate nearly a year to even find his will. It was almost twenty years out of date at that point, with most of the heirs having already died themselves. Most of the proceeds ultimately ended up going to distant relatives, with folks who never even met Jack Gsantner handed checks for over $150,000 each. A cousin, who once lived with a young Gsantner and his parents in Nebraska, received almost $500,000 from the sale of the house and a portion of the stocks and cash.
Though Jack Gsantner’s story might not stand out in the dividend millionaire series, the reference article in the Omaha World Herald does contain a great quote. It is from George Morgan, an ex-stockbroker turned finance teacher at the University of Nebraska. Hopefully it provides some motivation to regular readers:
You would be surprised at the clients that I had who had two-to-three-to-four-million-dollar accounts. If you drove by their house or saw them walking down the street, you’d think they were just normal people.
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