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Pledged donations can become a contentious issue in estate administration

Estate planning is a very personal matter, and everybody will approach it a bit differently, depending on their financial circumstances, family situation, personal values, and life goals. For some people, estate planning will involve making significant contributions to causes they believe in, such as nonprofit organization's whose missions they share and universities where they received their education.

One thing individuals should be cautious about when it comes to leaving a legacy is making pledged donations. As a recent article noted regarding Duke University's decision to pursue a pledged donation in court, institutions which received pledged donations may, in some cases, have a legal and fiduciary obligation to pursue pledge collections. This can create complications when family doesn't support an organization's right to collect on the pledge. 

In the Duke case, the probate court requested that the University submit a claim for the unpaid portion of university pledges. The University initially pursued the claim, which amounted to $9.9 million, but subsequently withdrew the claim due to negative publicity. In its withdrawal notice, the university apologized for "any pain this has caused the McClendon family." The likely motivation is that the estate may be insolvent, given its extensive liabilities, and it would make the university look bad to collect on a pledge when the estate cannot pay its other bills.

Ensuring liquidity in one's estate is an important task in estate planning, as is clearly identifying one's wishes with respect to legacies and other gifting. Working with an experienced attorney is critical to navigating these issues, both on the planning end and for beneficiaries who are impacted by distribution of pledged funds in estate administration.

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