Wills, Trusts and Estates – Part 2

Church Law and Tax 1989-07-01 Recent Developments Wills, Trusts, and Estates Richard R. Hammar, J.D.,

Church Law and Tax 1989-07-01 Recent Developments

Wills, Trusts, and Estates

The Supreme Court of Georgia ruled that a family could not privately agree to the settlement of an estate, that originally had included a charitable trust, without the participation of a state officer. A decedent left a will which distributed the bulk of his $25 million estate to a charitable trust for the purpose feeding starving people and “giving Bibles to those who need to know Jesus Christ.” The will was submitted to probate, but various relatives filed challenges. Eventually, family members agreed to a private settlement of the estate which left a much smaller portion of the estate to a charitable trust and more of the estate to the family. The state director of revenue objected to the settlement, citing a state law specifying that no court can modify or terminate a charitable trust without his participation. The family maintained that the revenue director’s participation was not necessary since no modification or termination of a trust was involved. They pointed out that the will of the decedent was never admitted to probate, and accordingly the charitable trust that was established in the will was never established. The state supreme court disagreed with the family, and ordered the state revenue director’s participation in the proceeding. It concluded that the case “does involve the modification of a charitable trust, notwithstanding the fact that the trust is one which a deceased individual sought to establish in an unprobated will.” The court based its decision in part on the state policy of according the revenue director broad powers in supervising charitable trusts. This case illustrates that in some cases the provisions of a will, though unequivocally leaving a gift to charity, can be subverted by a private agreement among the family. This principle often comes as a surprise to churches and other charities. Collins v. Citizens & Southern Trust Co., 373 S.E.2d 612 (Ga. 1988).

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