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When is an Inheritance Like a Plague of Locusts in Virginia?

Gift horseThe Smithsonian Institute is seeking the court’s help to alter Carl J. Drake's will; there is a moral to this story!

You commit to charity with nothing but the greatest of intentions, but when it comes to unique gifts of charity, good intentions are not necessarily all it takes to do the most good. Without proper planning and consideration of the options, a gift of charity can actually be a gift of a future burden to your institution of choice.

Consider the case of the Smithsonian Museum and the entomologist Carl J Drake, as relayed in a recent article in the Guardian titled “Smithsonian Museum is bugging out over insect inheritance.” Most museums across the globe really only start out and build their vast collections through the largesse of charitable donors. The Smithsonian is no stranger to gifts of the strangest collections with the most peculiar needs and various limiting conditions. That said, Drake’s insert collection is beginning to bug them. The Museum is actually petitioning the courts in an attempt to modify the gift.

Drake left his vast collection of preserved specimen (dead bugs) to the museum through his will with various rules attached (dare we say a tangled web) to protect the collection and ensure its preservation. In addition, he left his entire fortune to the museum with the express purpose of purchasing new bug collections. Unfortunately, the rules were written several decades ago and they just do not make much sense anymore. Legal restrictions have made it difficult to buy collections so the earmarked funds just sit in the bank unused, moreover, the rules established by the will regarding the existing collection are as onerous as they are outdated. While you can read more in the original article, when it is all said and done, the gift hinders the museum’s ability to effectively manage the collection and they lament the waste.

Drake really loved his bugs and he really thought hard about ensuring his collection would live on. It certainly is a motivation we can all appreciate given the amount of planning Drake did to make the gift. This case illustrates the law of unintented consequences. Accordingly, this situation is instructive on several levels.  If you have a very specific gift to make there is much to do and think about, for example, that family home you never want your heirs to sell. Proper planning means taking into account all possible contingencies for generations to come; a nearly impossible task that requires it's own 'get out of jail for free' planning.

You can learn more about this topic as well as other strategies on our website under the tab entitled: estate planning in Virginia. Be sure you also sign up for our complimentary e-newsletter so that you may be informed of all the latest issues that could affect you, your loved ones and your estate planning.

ReferenceThe Guardian (June 12, 2014) “Smithsonian Museum is bugging out over insect inheritance

 

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