Bequest Stories #1 – The Flowery Hand from the Grave

Years ago a lady who lived on the outskirts of Atlanta included her church in her will. She left the church her home and two acres. The lady loved flowers and her will’s instructions were that the annual money from the bequest investments was to ensure there were flowers on the communion table every Sunday. Time passed but she didn’t. More time passed and she didn’t. When she died, Atlanta had grown and surrounded her two acres. It sold for $600,000.

A typical foundation’s annual distribution policy is spending up to 5% of the corpus which in this case means the church would have access to $30,000 a year for flowers. Most flower arrangements cost $50 to $75 so this is FAR in excess of what the church could spend. They were stuck and the only person who could resolve this was dead. Actually, there was another person – a judge.

The church petitioned the judge to remove the restrictions imposed by the will. The judge agreed and said that money could be spent in this order of priority:

  • First: the church would ensure there were flowers every Sunday on the communion table
  • Second: the church could use money from this bequest for the beautification and grounds maintenance around the church
  • Finally: the church could use money for any building maintenance and improvements

The proverbial “hand from the grave” constricted the church too much. When you make a will or when you advise someone on a will, ensure the time and purpose restrictions permit some leeway long after you die.

Lead On!

Steve – all kinds of FREE church manuals and sample documents – 400 plus blogs on every church administration topic you can think of

The Executor

My office door was always open and several LOLs (little old ladies) would sit in my office talking with me while I worked. Phyllis had no family except for two basset hounds. She used her church friends to the point where they were tired of helping her. One evening she took sick and was rushed to the hospital where a few friends gathered. In the middle of the night, she dictated and signed a half-page will and her friends said she should put me as the executor. I was notified of this the next day.

I accepted this even though I was no longer at that church; I felt it would be the right thing to help get through a temporary crisis and after a month get a better will naming someone else as the executor. I helped her move out into a retirement community, put the dogs in a kennel for the time being, get medical equipment, etc. After just a few days in her new location, she was again rushed to the hospital and died the next day. My plans were completely upended. I was now The Executor.

I first had to relocate the dogs to a rescue shelter. Then I had to contact various government agencies for death certificate, Social Security payments and death benefit, etc. I had to go to court to be recognized as the official executor (by coincidence a friend was the judge!). And then I had to find an estate liquidator and have an estate and house sale. It took months to do all this.

In the end, Phyllis’ estate netted after expenses about $80,000. Her will stated she wanted to create a named fund at the local Community Foundation with her church’s music ministry as the sole beneficiary of the annual distribution. Her church received about $4,000 the first year and will get more each year as the fund increases in value.

In hindsight I can thank Phyllis for that experience but at the time it was a humongous pain. In the end, she gave a forever gift to her church to the music ministry she loved so much in life.

Lead On!

Steve – all kinds of FREE church manuals and sample documents – 400 plus blogs on every church administration topic you can think of

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