What Can We Learn From the Sandals Resort Empire? Insights into Estate Management


Hotelier and billionaire, Gordon “Butch” Stewart, 79, died on Jan. 4, 2021, in Miami, Florida. The father of eight had several trusts set up for his various family members and an estimated estate value of $6B with around $95M to be distributed to a group of mostly elderly beneficiaries. The estate is heavily contested in several courts.

Estate Controversy

One of the key issues in the estate is the role of Butch’s son, Adam Stewart, as the executive chairman of Sandals Resorts International, who is accused of delaying the payouts (between $2.5 million to $20 million each) to the elderly beneficiaries. It’s alleged that Adam is “waiting for them to die.” Sadly, two of the beneficiaries have already died since Butch’s passing:

  • Butch’s first wife Erica Hamilton, to whom he left $15M, died in January of 2024.
  • Roger Seivright, a longtime Sandals employee who’d been left $10M, died in May of 2023.

Legal Implications: Florida’s Anti-Lapse Statute

So what can we learn from this potentially sick little waiting game?

We can discuss Florida’s anti-lapse statute in this context.

If a beneficiary of a will or trust dies BEFORE the testator (the person making the last will), there is a “lapse” in the will. Once the testator passes away, there are several options as to where the gift would go.Traditionally, the rule was that the gift would simply “fall back” into the testator’s estate to be distributed among the folks in the residuary (everything else) section of the testator’s last will.  The gift would have “lapsed”, and the descendants of the pre-deceased beneficiaries were out of luck.

However, Florida’s robust Anti-Lapse Statute (SS 732.603(1)) states that if the gift was to go to a grandparent or a descendant of a grandparent, that gift doesn’t lapse but goes to the pre-deceased beneficiaries’ heirs.


If any of the elderly beneficiaries in Butch’s last will were related to him such that they shared a great-grandparent, the death of the beneficiary BEFORE Butch would not cause the gift to lapse. Instead, Butch’s estate would be responsible to pay out to the beneficiaries’ heirs.

In Butch’s case, the fact that the beneficiaries died AFTER Butch, would entitle their estate to claim their interest… Unless the trusts/wills stated otherwise.

Considerations for Drafting Wills and Trusts:

Very often, wills or trusts include strict language to “disinherit” a beneficiary if their share was not distributed, in full, prior to their passing. This sometimes requires a full distribution prior to a beneficiaries’ passing to prevent THEIR estate from claiming an interest (like in Butch’s case).

Important Note:

Florida’s Anti-lapse Statute requires the deceased beneficiary to be either a grandparent or a descendant of a grandparent. It does not apply to gifts left to friends or distant relatives who predeceased the testator.


So there you have it, we learn the importance of drafting wills and trusts carefully so that the universe knows what will happen should one of the beneficiaries predeceases the testator mid-distribution. We also learn that talking about resorts always makes me want a vacation!

Portrait of Odelia Goldberg, Esq.

With over 50 years of combined experience, our probate, estate planning, real estate, elder law and asset protection attorneys provide peace of mind for our clients throughout South Florida.

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