What Happened to Howard Hughes’ Money After He Died

last-will-and-testamentToday I found out what happened to billionaire Howard Hughes’ money when he died.

Over his lifetime, Howard Hughes’ wallet became one of the fattest of his time. It isn’t known exactly how much he was worth at the time of his death, but ten years before he died, he was forced to sell his shares in the airline company TWA. The payout? $546 million (about $3.8 billion today), estimated by some to have been about 1/3 of his net worth.

When he died, there was one major problem: Hughes had no direct descendants or immediate family, and he didn’t leave behind a will. At least, that’s what authorities were forced to conclude after an extensive search for one. After contacting his various banks, lawyers, and employees, every hotel he’d ever stayed in, posting classifieds in various newspapers, and even consulting a psychic, they were forced to accept that settling the massive estate was not going to be an easy matter.

So just where did all of that money go after his death?

Most assumed he wanted the money to go to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. It was well-known that he didn’t want the money falling into the hands of any distant relatives, but without hard evidence, distant cousins and others began snatching for the cash.

A battle ensued between the temporary administrator of the Hughes estate, cousin and lawyer William Lummis, and those who ran the Medical Institute. It was a multi-state war, with Nevada, California, and Texas all claiming to be responsible for the distribution of the state, and all of which had their own laws about inheritance.

While the various parties were fighting it out, a couple of different wills surfaced, though eventually thrown out as fakes. A notable one was the three-page document that declared Melvin Dummar, a gas station attendant, was to inherit 1/16 of Hughes’ fortune. Supposedly, Dummar once picked Hughes up off the side of the road and gave him a ride to his hotel, and Hughes was so grateful that he left Dummar a huge chunk of money. In 1978, the will was thrown out as a forgery.

Next, “wives” started emerging from Hughes’ past, taking advantage of his reclusive reputation to explain why no one had heard of them before. Terry Moore, an actress, claimed to have married Hughes twice, but provided no documentation to support her assertions.  She did, in fact, once live with Hughes in the 1940s, but her claim that they were not only married, but never divorced, was called into question given the fact that she married three times after her supposed marriage to Hughes. Nevertheless, she must have put forward a good argument, or at least pestered the estate managers so much that they decided to pay her just to get rid of her, because she was paid $400,000 by the estate. Later, Moore wrote a book titled Beauty and a Billionaire which made the bestseller list, likely lining her pockets a bit more.

In addition to supposed wives, an extraordinary number of Hughes’ supposed children decided to acknowledge their deceased father. One was said to be the lovechild of Hughes and Amelia Earhart—product of the Mile High Club?—even though Earhart never had any children. At least two were black, but their claims were thrown out as Hughes was known to be quite the racist.

After years of struggle trying to sort the people with legitimate claims from the fakers who were in it to try to grab some of the cash, a lot of the money did end up going to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. However, a huge chunk of it also went to various Hughes heirs. According to the Wall Street Journal, around 1000 people have benefited from the estate, including 200 of Hughes’ distant relatives. After liquefying many of his assets, they collectively were awarded about $1.5 billion.

Interestingly, the liquidation of the estate wasn’t completely finalized until 2010—34 years after his death. The last piece of the puzzle was the Summerlin residential development. In 1996, Rouse Co. (now General Growth) agreed to buy the Summerlin land from the Hughes’ estate on a 14-year repayment plan. With that, finally, the estate of Howard Hughes was laid to rest.

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Bonus Howard Hughes Facts:

  • Hughes’ reported relationship with Melvin Dummar was also the subject of a movie—Melvin and Howard—in 1980. The film was nominated for several Golden Globes and Academy Awards, and Mary Steenburgen even won a few for her role as a supporting actress.
  • Howard Hughes was born on Christmas Eve in 1905 into a family who ran a very successful oil tool business. He inherited that business when he turned eighteen—his parents had died the year before—and just like that, he was a millionaire. With his new wealth he decided to fund a few films rather than manage the family business.
  • His most popular movie was Hell’s Angels, the World War I flying epic, which fueled Hughes’ interest in aviation. It cost around $4 million to make (about $54 million today) and also grossing about $8 million. It helped catapult Howard Hughes into Hollywood fame. His name was even coupled with the likes of Ginger Rogers, Ava Gardner, and Katherine Hepburn.
  • Hughes’ true love was flying. He suffered from partial deafness and complained of a constant ringing in his ears, but when he was in the air, the ringing stopped, or at least was drowned out by other noises. Credited with many successful aviation inventions, he was also well-known for the Spruce Goose, a wooden sea plane that Hughes worked on tirelessly until its completion in 1947. The plane was only flown once, partially because Hughes began withdrawing from aviation and from society after being involved in a horrific plane crash in 1946.
  • Hughes lived a fascinating life, but the end of his life was nearly as interesting, if a bit peculiar. He gained a reputation as a recluse, conducting nearly all of his business from a suite in the Desert Hotel, which he owned. According to the few handlers who managed things for him, the fabulous Hollywood playboy started letting himself go in the last twenty-five years of his life. His hair was constantly dirty and his teeth were rotten, he became addicted to drugs, and he had an obsession with germs. When he died on April 5, 1976, he weighed just 92 pounds.
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  • I and my family were living in Freeport, grand Bahama Island when Hughes took over the top floor of a hotel there. As part of his reclusiveness and his wealth, the hotel changed the elevator floor signaling device to indicate the absence of the top floor (the 12th floor, as I recall). On my way home from work one afternoon, I stopped by and asked the check-in person at this hotel what had happened to the 12th floor … his answer: “We don’t have no 12th floor, mon.” I am unsure just how long he lived in Freeport. I saw him at a distance once there with his amanuensis who handled all his daily monetary transactions, such as buying groceries. I remember that it was said of him at that time, that, like modern day Howie Mandell, Hughes rigorously avoided any and all physical contact with others … a very strange man !

  • All I knew about Howard Hughes, I learned from the Simpsons.

    • He was very handsome man in his youth – later his face change – he had this strange, demonic look

      • He was in a life-altering crash while testing one of his planes (amazing he survived at all). His face and body were not only broken up but crushed. He was hospitalized for months and on Morphine, and had daily injections of Codeine (which metabolizes into Morphine)… hence his “drug” addition.

  • I am related to Howard Hughes on my grandmothers side. I see so many traits in my family that are similar to many of these stated.

    • Which traits are those that your family possess? A lot of you live in motels? Addicted to drugs? Rotten teeth? You don’t shower? You are racist? Some of you are billionaires?

      • Maybe they don’t want to be around people. I for one have that trait because people are rude and inconsiderate.

    • Did you get estate money after his death? And also, what “traits” are you referring to?

    • Marcee ... ILLINOIS

      Seriously? Go on “Who Do You Think You Are?” If true, just be careful. Unfortunately, no $$$$$ is left. Tough break kid.

    • Me too on my paternal grandfather’s side.

    • I’m corious was the movie made with Leonardo de caption any similarity to he’s real life

  • Wow…….family affair indeed….

  • Wow! Even though he was quite “the racist” I still find his life history fascinating. He was one of the greatest men who ever lived. RIP.

    • You are so right!! He was a smart, great, amazing man that changed the world! Be proud for all the great things he did!!! He had a dream, followed it & conquered it! You should be proud to be a part of that heritage!! People seem to want everyone’s short cumings to shine; let the good things shine!✈️✈️✈️

    • Hesicah Mathiski

      he was a bum. only had money because of is fathers invention.

      • If that were true he would have been broke a lot sooner. Granted, he started out with their fortune but if he hadn’t been the forward thinker he was, he’d have died poor.

  • As far as I’ve learned most if not all his money was manipulated and straight up stolen by Mormons. Funny they were very closely associated with him for years yet Hughes never proclaimed to be Mormon. I’m sure an indepth research of the Mormon church expansion after Hughes death would yield some interesting clues!

    • Marcee ... ILLINOIS

      Wow. Never knew that. Amazing.

      • I’m Australian and as a child in the sixties had read of the mormon mafia around Mr Hughes in the Desert Hotel and was fascinated by his charisma and fabulous wealth .

    • That’s a rumor that’s been around the world since the GAS STATION ATTENDANT started it at the same time he claimed to have been given a piece of Howard’s estate. Both were debunked as just that, rumors. You may want to put a little back round search in before you speak so as not to appear to be so ignorant…

    • john macdonald

      lots of anger out there . i am the real son of HH

      • Ret.TWA Flight Attendant Shelley

        I’m his twin daughters just me myself and I. I use to work for him at both his airlines. Hughes Air West & TWA. He was not Mormon he hated religion.

  • Tomas Hightower

    Reading about Howard, sounds like the perfect movie script for “The Donald’s” demise. Would welcome it with open arms considering he all but screwed the workers of Atlantic City.

  • My father moved to CA from Utah and went to work for Hughes Tool Co. Approx 1957. Two years earlier, my cousin who was the reigning Orange County Fair Queen, was picked up by Hughes Productions to become the last young girlfriend of Hughes. Whenever a tv show is doing a story on Hughes, she is always interviewed. Of course she was the youngest, others that were close to him have passed on. He always provided drivers to pickup her family to visit her in LA. They were all Mormons. One of them that i had met, was previously a newscaster for KSLTV in SLC. I believe that the Mormons were chosen because they were suspised to be non drinkers and he thought he could trust them. The story goes on….

  • King Of The World

    Well, well, well!

    Now that the Confederate State is down in South Carolina and Greece about to accepted to pay its virtual half trillion euros debt ( well 1/3 trillion dollars debt thanks of the erase of “some” money ), I can tell that I read a book about Howard Hughes’life and it is sad that Mr Hughes had neither an heir nor an heiress to claim this 12 billions US dollars !

  • Howard Hughes is still fascinating to this day, most of what he did was actually no ones business..
    But I do like his over the top antics….

  • What a guy, a pioneer way ahead of his time, an inspiration. however what a tragic sad ending. They say genius borders on madness.

  • If you would be interested in the truth about Howard Hughes and Melvin Dummar, may I suggest reading

    either ” The Investigation”, or ” Stolen Justice”, both written by Ex FBI agent Gary Magnesen.

    • Melvin my mother in law is Jean Deckenback of “Hughes Deckenback Estates ” daughter to Howard Hughes and yes I have seen the will ….

  • My cousin was a great man! He was a genius and a hero! The last 20 years of his life was lost due to his illness.

    • Millard Dennis

      Sorry bud, no more money up for grabs.

    • You were Howard’s cousin wow I’m a big fan of he’s accomplishments was he’s movie played by Leo any thing like his real life

      • This has been asked twice now and still, no one has answered…I guess no one REALLY knew him! Just sayin…

    • Hello, I too am fascinated by Howard Hughes in what he accomplished for humanity in aviation and other endeavours while suffering from mental health it gives me hope for my daughter who also suffers for mental health. Rest in Peace Howard Hughes

    • Ret.TWA Flight Attendant

      I agree I use to work for him at TWA.

    • May he rest in peace. xxx

  • He had OCD, that’s why he isolated himself from society.

  • As a child Insuffered from OCD, it wasn’t called that until many years later but I was obsessive with certain things and ways. I have. Read and studied this condition, also phobias which I cannot say Ihave or not have, but I am not the fearful child I was afraid of everything. I struggled all my life, I’ve come a long way and gave studied, married had a wonderful family and have been able to control my demons and all without medication. prayer has been my saving grace, so of course, I know what he lived every day. It’s not an easy battle but I ‘ve fought it tooth and nail. I am in victory, some good days, some bad but I’m so proud of me.

  • rest in peace

  • “One was said to be the lovechild of Hughes and Amelia Earhart—product of the Mile High Club?—even though Earhart never had any children. At least two were black, but their claims were thrown out as Hughes was known to be quite the racist.”

    As if being a racist stopped slave owners and other white men from raping black women. I don’t think Hughes has any black children however the notion that he wouldn’t have any black children because he is “racist” is just ridiculous, as if being racist has anything to do with treating another human being like a piece of meat.

    • black men also had slaves back then….just saying..don’t put blame on race.

    • Exactly, I thought of Strom Thurmond who was a segregationist and hated black people and he has a black daughter that was hidden for years. He raped a young black maid who worked in his home. Racist men full of hate have historically raped the black Women they enslaved producing children with them.

      • Normally slave owners purchased their slaves. They were not the ones that enslaved them. They were enslaved by their own people in Africa and sold or traded to slave traders that took them to the rest of the world. I love how people try and blame southerners for everything that has to do with slavery. Weren’t all those horrible southern slave owners Democrats anyway………

        • Jesus Christ people so many opinions very little facts.The article is about Howard Hughes not the Atlantic Slave Trade.

  • Lol,it absolutely ridiculous how people come out of the woodwork when they try to scam for money,notarity, fame or attention. So-called family that cannot produce proof to such claims.False rumors always appear when no one close to the deceased is notied to be present.

  • Howard had three children the first four grandchildren born before he passed gets his money split between them he was a gentle man only when he drank he had anger though never hurt his woman or his children he was a great grandfather. His OCD was something he endured when his mother passed away from the flu. The person who wrote this doesn’t know what he is saying… There is a will and no his estates didn’t go to the guy from the gas station he got only a certain amount for giving him a ride from the dessert to Las Vegas because he was dehydrated .

  • Who owns The Hughes Corporation in Las Vegas?

  • This is crazy. I can reach Howard Hughes Jr in 8 clicks using my mother as a starting point on the find a grave website. As a young child, I can remember this story being told around our dining room table at my grandparents house – apparently we were related to the family as distant blood relatives. I knew we would never receive anything because back then plenty of people had already tried to claim blood relation. Many were denied any inheritance.. I never knew they actually paid out in 2010. Tough luck, I guess! I’m grateful for my families wealth, though. An incredible amount of internal riches that were certainly passed down from generation to generation. Must be in the blood. Many smart, hard working, successful individuals. I just hope I can keep my sanity. That has to be worth something. There’s definitely crazy smarts in the family.

    • You are a good person, I wish you blessings for the rest of your life, and may Dear Howard Hughes rest in peace.
      I thought he was wonderful.

  • Howard a true aviator

  • I was always interested in the billionaire. I read a book on the man. He was good at SPENDING money, not making it. His father patented a drill bit for oil. He was also a womanizer. His Huges medical foundation was started as a tax write-off company. Interesting man nevertheless.

  • Anna Gayle Fortenberry

    They should of gave the money to the man Melvin dummar!!!

  • Here is a question, what is the Name of the psychic who was consulted on the chance of finding the Fortune of the Late “Mr. Hughes” and did he/she ever make it big or loose his/her life shortly afterwards, and did any of Hughes’s enemies (for example Juan Trippe to name a few) ever have connections to the said psychic and/or did the psychic or one of the other mentioned ever use knowledge of anything that could have been in such a will to either get money or sabotage someone and/or something that was important to Hughes or help something [an organization or group of people (possibly who Hughes hated out of spite or racism)] to either get something or damage the name of Hughes (or things connected to him) in some way, and if so who could they be and how if it happened could it have been done especially if no other people noticed?

  • Somehow, I believe the Mormon connection. They love money and strive to gain as much as possible, especially the men. Women are second-class citizens, and the church was totally racist until about 1978. The men believe that the more power you have on earth, the better chance you have of being a king on your own planet when you die. Good luck on that one.

  • Mormons or mormonism is a cult a complete and utter cult! Based on power and wealth! I would not hesitate to think that they where responsible for many of Hugh’s problems. They wanted access to the money and that is no doubt!