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Probate and Estate Litigation Blog

Dispute of charitable gift latest row in family probate fight

Minnesota residents may be interested to know, in what seems like an unending probate fight amongst the family of wealthy oil tycoon, what some styled as a simple announcement of a generous charitable gift of $3.4 million to the American Cancer Society spawned letters to a major newspaper and calls to attorneys.

The issue stems around a court order in the probate estate of the deceased daughter of the oil tycoon, whom sources say was naturally a private person who liked to make gifts without a lot of fanfare. The court's order, which came about as part of a settlement agreement between family members, provided that the woman's estate would give $3.4 million directly to four charities. One of these gifts was for the benefit of the American Cancer Society.

According to the attorney for the woman's estate, the most recent issue arose when a family member, without authorization, helped announce the "anonymous" gift at the Cattle Baron's Ball, a major fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. Some reports implied that the gift was part of the Cattle Baron's Ball fundraising efforts. The family member who made the announcement chaired the Cattle Barons' Ball this past year.

The family member who made the announcement denies the allegations and said that the announcement was reviewed and approved by the American Cancer Society.

If anything, this case illustrates how sensitive probate disputes can be. Oftentimes, family members have to be very careful what they say, especially when a court is involved. One thing that is expected in probate disputes is that people comply strictly with court orders and other documents that are meant to determine how a dead person's estate will be handled. Once someone seems to perform acts on behalf of the estate without proper authorization, it can land that person in a lot of trouble and prolong an already emotionally charged situation.

Source: Dallas Morning News, "Cattle Barron's Ball announcement fuels Shelby family dispute," Alan Peppard, Nov. 1, 2013

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