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!

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