• Key point. A gift in a decedent's will to a defunct charity may "lapse."
An Illinois court ruled that a gift to a church orphanage lapsed since the orphanage no longer existed and it was succeeded by another charity that was not organized as an orphanage. A decedent died leaving one—fourth of his estate to the Lutheran Orphan Home, Paris, Missouri. There was no Lutheran Orphan Home in Paris, Missouri at the time of the decedent's death, and never had been. There was a Lutheran Orphan Home in Des Peres, Missouri, but it closed some 25 years prior to the decedent's death. The assets of the orphanage were transferred to the Lutheran Family & Children's Services of Missouri, which claimed that it was entitled to the portion of the decedent's estate that was earmarked for the Lutheran Orphan Home. A court concluded that the decedent must have intended that one—fourth of his estate go to the Lutheran Orphan Home in Des Peres, Missouri, since this was the only entity by that name that had ever existed in the state of Missouri. However, the court refused to distribute this portion of the decedent's estate to the Lutheran Family & Children's Services of Missouri, even though it was the legal successor of the orphanage, since its purposes were not closely enough related to the decedent's express purpose of benefiting an orphanage. The court observed: "[Lutheran Family & Children's Services of Missouri] provides services such as foster care, adoption, counseling for families, and medical care for at—risk infants, which are very commendable; however, they are not in the nature of services provided by an orphanage and cannot be construed as such. [The decedent's will] makes clear that [he] intended his bequest to directly benefit the children at the orphanage and not an organization which provides general child welfare services to the community. If the [decedent] had intended to generally benefit a Lutheran charity that assisted children and families through general services, he could have made a specific bequest to [such an entity]." In re Estate of Beck, 649 N.E.2d 1011 (Ill. App. 1995).