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Gift or charitable donation? The question one dispute raises

charity-disputes-litigation-after-death-fresehansen.jpgThere comes a point, after decades of collecting, that we come to realize one important thing: we can't take it with us when we die. We know it's morbid to consider but this realization is ultimately what forces us to consider what will happen to our belongings when we pass away, allowing us to make decisions now according to our wishes instead of letting our possessions fall into intestate succession, where we have no control over where it goes.

Making charitable donations is one way many people deal with this issue. But as you can imagine, this process may require the help of a lawyer because it can get complicated and may require changes to an existing estate plan. Without the help of a lawyer knowledgeable in both charitable organizations and estate planning, such as those found here at Frese Hansen, a person could easily make a mistake that could lead to a dispute down the road.

Florida residents can see this illustrated perfectly by an out-of-state case where a misunderstanding over donated items resulted in a civil lawsuit against a non-profit theater group. According to reports, a 90-year-old woman, who had been a long-time benefactor to the theater group, donated items to one of the group's members under the assumption that the items would be sold at an auction that would benefit the group. It wasn't until after the auction did not occur that things turned litigious.

According to the woman, when she asked for the items back, one of the group's members refused. He would later testify, after the woman took legal action, that he thought the items were gifts, not donations. To resolve the dispute, the court ordered the man to "return the donations by the end of February, or pay a $3,800 judgment."

Some who were close to the case chalked the dispute up to age-related confusion. But a recent interview with the woman did not indicate any decline in mental faculties. The case then begs the question: did the group member take advantage of a situation few would question? It's something for our readers to consider, especially because they too could be taken advantage of then accused of age-related confusion later on.

Source: The Chinook Observer, "Longtime patron breaks with theater group after donation fight," Natalie St. John, Jan. 20, 2015

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