Famous author’s case reveals complications surrounding donations

Published 10 Nov 2016

In many cases when people pass, their will stipulates that a significant portion of their estate be left to a charity of their choosing, often one that has significant sentimental value to them. However, despite the good nature of these wishes, they can lead to wills disputes for a number of reasons.

Sometimes, the desire to leave money to charity fails to make adequate provision for other family members. In other instances, unclear wording can add additional complications, like in the recent case involving the estate of Where the Wild Things Are author Maurice Sendak.

What caused the complications?

For a will to be effective and limit the likelihood of someone contesting a will, the wording contained within it needs to be clear. It’s always worth keeping any eye out for ambiguous statements that could allow for one of these cases to begin. In the case of the Sendak estate, the late author simply said he wished for his “rare edition books” to be gifted to the Rosenbach Museum and Library. However, Sendak’s estate held hundreds of rare books, and it wasn’t clear which ones he wanted to donate and which would stay with the estate.

The members of Sendak’s estate argued that there was a difference between the “rare edition books” promised to the museum and the simply “rare books” the beneficiaries wanted to keep. This is evidence of how the smallest disagreements can be enough to spark a contesting wills claim and create confusion for a range of beneficiaries.

According to a news article published on Wealth Management, Sendak’s lawyers had encouraged him to write out a comprehensive list of which books he wanted to donate and which were intended for other beneficiaries. Despite the advice, Sendak determined that the task would be too time consuming and trusted his distinction would be interpreted according to his wishes.

Is this a common occurrence?

Charitable donations have been contested in Australia as well. In one instance, a South Australian man left his entire $1.8 million estate to the Royal Adelaide Hospital Research Fund despite having a daughter who was left with nothing. The daughter successfully contested the will which led to her child receiving compensation to help her disability.

To find out more about how you can be fairly compensated in the event of a loved one’s passing, get in touch with the team at Gerard Malouf and Partners today.

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