Wills, Trusts and Estates – Part 2

Church Law and Tax 1990-05-01 Recent Developments Wills, Trusts, and Estates Richard R. Hammar, J.D.,

Church Law and Tax 1990-05-01 Recent Developments

Wills, Trusts, and Estates

An Oregon state court ruled that the personal representatives of an estate improperly distributed estate assets to a minister. A decedent’s will left a portion of his estate to the “Eastside Community Church” of a designated address in Portland, Oregon. However, since the church occupying the designated address was actually known as the “Eastside Free Methodist Church,” the personal representatives of the estate concluded that the will was “ambiguous” and they accordingly decided to divide the estate equally between the Eastside Free Methodist Church and the minister who served the church in the 1970’s when the church was known as “Eastside Community Church” (despite the fact that the will was signed three years after the previous minister had left the church). The church challenged this distribution in court. A trial court ruled that the will was not ambiguous, and that “Eastside Community Church” clearly referred to “Eastside Free Methodist Church.” It concluded that the personal representatives had improperly distributed the estate. A state appeals court agreed, noting that “the personal representatives’ understanding of the meaning of the will is preposterous. The designated beneficiary is a church at a specified location, which the decedent had attended, even if it was under a different name. There is no intelligible way to read the will as intending to benefit an individual who had ceased being the minister at that church three years before the will was executed.” Burris v. Eastside Free Methodist Church, 784 P.2d 109 (Or. App. 1989).

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