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Estate gift, donor intent, pass through possibility

  • 1.  Estate gift, donor intent, pass through possibility

    Posted 18 days ago
    Good afternoon all,
    My university is affiliated with a church denomination but we are two separate entities. We recently received an estate gift, which we weren't planning on so we don't have any documentation on our side, with the memo line of the check stating the initiative to put the funds toward. Our gift processor put the gift in the fund that matched the memo line but when the appropriate dean was notified of the gift, they said that that fund is no longer used and the initiative was actually run by the denomination.
    My friends in development would like to write a check to the denomination, stating that the donor intended to give towards an initiative and mistakenly gave the gift to our university instead of the denomination.
    The executor of the will (who is the spouse of the deceased) has let us know that the will states the money should come to the university. The family has said that since the initiative is through the denomination, the money should go there.
    I would like to ask for a copy of the will, so we have something in writing, but I'm getting questions from development about whether that's even needed. I need some help from the hive.
    1. If the will states that the money should come to my university, even if we don't have the initiative that the donor intended to give the money towards, do we accept/keep the gift? [I realize that a) if the fund isn't active, it shouldn't be able to be selected and b) ideally, we would not have deposited the check before this was sorted out].
    2. Development would like to pass along the money to the denomination, which I feel is a solution fraught with potential complications, but maybe, I'm not recognizing a nuance here. Can we do that?
    3. If there was no will, would that change the situation at all? That is, since we don't have the initiative at our university, I could simply return the gift to the donor since it was given in error.
    Or something else entirely.
    Thanks all for your collective wisdom!

    Director of Advancement Services
    North Park University

    Elizabeth Tavares
    Director of Advancement Services
    North Park University

  • 2.  RE: Estate gift, donor intent, pass through possibility

    Posted 18 days ago
    Wow.  It sounds like you are in a tough spot.  And yes, it will make a big difference whether there is a will.  That's a legal contract.  The Executor is required to comply with the terms provided they are legal.  If the Executor cannot comply for whatever reason, the will normally describes the latitude given to the Executor.

    So, I think the first step is finding that will!  What is going to be critical is the language referencing the initiative.  It's possible that the will mentions only a "preference" for that initiative.  Meaning, if you no longer run that program, you have some flexibility as to redirecting the gift.  If, on the other hand, funding the initiative is a requirement, then you need to decline the bequest.

    I cannot offer much more guidance until we learn about what documentation exists.  There must be something somewhere that instructed the Executor to add that memo.  Even if not a formal will, ask to see whatever instructions the deceased left behind.


    John H. Taylor
    John H. Taylor Consulting, LLC
    2604 Sevier St.
    Durham, NC   27705
    919.816.5903 (cell/text)

    Serving the Advancement Community Since 1987

  • 3.  RE: Estate gift, donor intent, pass through possibility

    Posted 18 days ago
    Thanks for the help, John. And tough spots are why I love this job; never a dull moment! I'm glad to know that my spidey-sense is continuing to develop.

    Development has agreed to connect with the donor and see if we can review a copy of the will. Still some pushback but moving forward nonetheless.

    So grateful for this community, 


  • 4.  RE: Estate gift, donor intent, pass through possibility

    Posted 18 days ago
    Hi Elizabeth,

    Get advice from counsel, there are enough spots where the details might matter quite a bit. That said, I'll take a stab at your questions.

    1 - If the will says the university, that is a good indication of donor intent. You should only keep the gift if you are willing to accept its stipulations. If not, you should turn it down. While it would have been ideal not to cash the check, I don't think that's a big issue here. If the gift has conditions, and those haven't been shared with you yet, your cashing the check is not acceptance of those conditions. If you can't or won't meet the gift's conditions, you should decline the gift and return the money. But you need to see the will to figure out exactly what it says and how it obligates you. 

    2 - Regranting is more appropriate in a scenario where you were once engaged in the purpose and used a gift, but then stopped doing that purpose - and when that stipulation giving you permission to regrant is in the gift agreement! In this instance, it seems rather fraught.

    3 - The 'no will' situation could be many things. I don't know how meaningful it is to speculate on any of them. The underlying point remains: you should only accept gifts if you intend to honor the donor's intent.

    Thank you,
    Isaac Shalev
    CRM Expert
    Sage70, Inc.
    (917) 859-0151

    Schedule a 30-minute consultation now:

  • 5.  RE: Estate gift, donor intent, pass through possibility

    Posted 18 days ago

    Thanks, Isaac! I appreciate the clarity on #2.
    I'm looking forward to wrapping this one up, hopefully soon!


    Elizabeth Tavares
    Director of Advancement Services
    North Park University