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Charity accused of exploiting vulnerable millionaire

A recent case of probate litigation may give readers in the Twin Cities even more incentive to monitor the financial activities of elderly loved ones. Through the lawsuit, the legal guardian of an incapacitated millionaire widow is seeking to defeat a charity organization's demand to make good on an alleged $1 million donation commitment.

The guardian claims that the charity exercised undue influence to coerce the elderly woman into making the donation commitment and changing her will for the charity's benefit.

The litigation centers around two letters the woman signed in 2002 and 2010 pledging the disputed contribution to the charity. The guardian asserts that the letters are not legally binding contracts.

The guardian also claims that the charity insinuated itself into the woman's life and attempted to estrange her from family members and her personal care provider. Pointing to a $5,000 charge against the woman's credit card and efforts to convince her to dissolve the legal guardianship, the guardian has accused the charity of using bully tactics to get at the woman's financial assets.

The charity has sought legal standing as a beneficiary in the woman's guardianship proceedings, asserting that invalidating her gift commitment would defeat her charitable intent. Because the charity currently finds itself in the middle of a foreclosure action, its continued existence may turn on the probate court's decision about the validity of the woman's pledge commitment.

While the desire to make a legacy gift to charity is not uncommon, the case of the millionaire widow highlights the importance of making sure that the wishes of an elder loved one are clearly understood.

Minnesotans may want to make a point of discussing the philanthropic plans of elder family members. Anyone who suspects that a family member's gifts to charity may not have been entirely voluntary will want to have an understanding of the legal options available for setting matters right.

Source: Orlando Sentinel, "Widow's guardian sues Holocaust center over $1-million 'pledge'," Tonya Alanez, April 17, 2012

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