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Max Lindsey was working on his mother’s taxes several years ago when he was caught off guard by something that didn’t quite make sense.
Lindsey looked at the well tax statements and started investigating. One call led to the next and soon, Lindsey, 68, had made a startling discovery: His mother was about to become a millionaire — several times over.
So was he. So were many of their relatives.
Like so many others in Texas, the Lindseys’ good fortune was buried in their land and has come in the form of liquid gas and mineral-rights leases signed many years earlier.
“They had the name of the production company on the tax statement. So, I got on the Internet and found out where they had a production office here and called them,” he said.
Lindsey learned his mother, Roberta Hudson Lindsey, 96, and Lindsey’s late father, Max Lindsey, had signed a deal in the mid-1900s to allow for gas drilling on their property.
Decades passed and nothing happened — no drilling, no money.
Only farming and raising cattle. That’s what the family did.
And times were often lean at the 170-acre property that has been in his family since 1850. His family settled in Texas after mining for gold in the California Gold Rush.
He said his parents often struggled to find money and, at one point, Lindsey’s father drove a school bus to make extra cash. His mother gardened and canned food for family meals.
“In one way you look at it, my mother inherited a lot of land and they were wealthy that way,” he said.
The cash didn’t start coming until about 10 years ago when his mother was in her 80s. He said her first check was for $600,000. He said it took him a while to uncover that there was drilling on their property because his mother was receiving checks in the mail and just ignoring them.
Today, he said his mother is worth about $6 million, and they have been working on an estate plan that takes care of her five children.
His mother now lives in an assisted-living home, and though her bills are paid, she can’t enjoy her new wealth. He said her long-term memory is great but that she has a great deal of trouble with knowing what happened yesterday.
Lindsey’s home is welcoming and modestly furnished with comfortable oversized brown leather couches and crosses and cowboys hanging on the walls. He wears a button-up shirt, blue jeans and work boots, a fairly unassuming millionaire.
He now buys a new pickup truck regularly, he and his wife, Beverly, have taken cruises to Italy and Alaska, and he makes the maximum tax-free annual monetary gifts to his children and grandchildren.
Yet, Lindsey said his family’s dealings with the drilling companies have not always been positive. He isn’t sure how many gas wells are on his 170 acres.
He wishes the family had more control of the land. Drillers come in when they want, drill where they want and produce how they want. He said the land simply can’t be farmed anymore, so he raises cattle for meat and doesn’t worry about raising too many crops.
“If we had known then what we know now, then we could have required them to have a mutual agreement as far as locations for the wells,” he said.
Lindsey and his extended family receive 12.5 percent of the production from most of the wells on their land. Some of the later leases Lindsey family members signed entitled them to 18.75 percent in royalties.
His largest monthly check has been $40,000 but he said he is careful not to rely on the checks. He retired from his machinist job at Lockheed-Martin 10 years ago and draws Social Security as well. His wife also works three days a week as a banker.
“I’ve never tried to live off of what I can’t live off of,” he said.
Plus, he said there is no guarantee about how much the companies will extract from their wells. He said the companies control the production. Now that natural-gas prices have slumped, he said oil-and-gas companies have slowed production, he collects less each month.
Nearly every week, the Lindseys receive an offer from someone who wants to buy their mineral rights. He has shredded checks for millions of dollars that come in the mail made out to him for those rights.
Lindsey has this advice for Ohioans contemplating leasing their land: “Don’t take their first offer, ask for a whole lot more than you think you’re going to get, then you can negotiate. If you sign what they come up and offer you, you messed up.”
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