Where did the money from Ellen White’s books go?
Mrs. White used the royalties from her books to pay the expenses of her staff and to finance the typesetting and printing of her books. In her day, the publishing houses did not cover these expenses. She also used the royalties as a source of funds to give to help the various institutions of the church. The church paid her a salary—at first, comparable to that of an ordained minister, and after her husband’s death, comparable to that of a church administrator—so she didn’t have to live on her book royalties alone.
Mrs. White did not leave her estate to her family or to the church. She left it to five trustees, whom she named in her will, and she gave them specific instructions regarding what they were to do with her writings and how they were to use the proceeds from her writings. When she died, her will provided for some bequests to family and close workers, including some ongoing income from royalties. However, at her death, her estate had more debts than liquid assets, in part because she had borrowed money to give to needy church projects. So the bequests could not be funded at the time of her death. The trustees of her estate worked out an arrangement with the General Conference to borrow the necessary funds, to be paid back at interest from the royalties on her books, and the indebtedness was completely paid off. The trustees made some modest settlements with people named in the will, and no family member or other individual has since benefited from the royalties on Mrs. White’s books.
After the death of W. C. White, her son, the trustees entered into an arrangement with the General Conference under which the General Conference provided an annual budget for the work of the White Estate and any royalties from Mrs. White’s books went into the General Conference treasury. This arrangement still holds today. The budget provided by the General Conference is substantially larger than the royalty income it receives.
(You’ll find more information regarding Mrs. White’s finances on the Ellen G. White Estate Web site, www.WhiteEstate.org. Look in the “Issues & Answers” section, under “Questions and Answers About Ellen G. White.” You can read the text of her will in appendix N of Messenger of the Lord, accessible on the White Estate Web site in “Online Books.”)