Monday, February 25, 2008

Major Charitable Institutions Can Be Petty, Too!

The Widget:

Court: Appeals Court
Judge: Sikora
Subject: Will contest
Tone: Thorough
Importance: 2.8

Few things on earth stir up as much unpleasantness as will contests. So you would think that institutions as luminous as Beth Israel and the Perkins School for the Blind (Helen Keller’s alma mater) would have better judgment than to get involved in one unless it was really, really necessary.

But get involved, they did. And lost, as they should have, in today’s Appeals Court decision, Maimonides School v. Coles, No. 06-P-1304.

They challenged a dying man’s decision to disinherit them and instead give a large gift to his neice, who visited him regularly and took great interest in his care. The contestants’ principal argument was that the man was depressed because he was dying and thus not thinking straight. They also argued that his decision to provide his neice with a large inheritance was “unnatural” because it would have generated significant tax liability. What’s interesting about this is that the older cases all held that a gift could not be unnatural if it was made to a blood relative. For some reason, the Court couldn’t find its way to those cases. In the end, though, it gets to the right place: “The evidence here does not create a genuine issue whether Brener's gift to the Rosens was unnatural. In the final stage they functioned as his closest family. They comforted him through the bleakness of terminal illness. His gratitude would be natural.” Yes, it would.

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