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Florida philanthropist's $1 million gift in question

An elderly South Florida philanthropist is at the center of surprising litigation between her court-appointed guardian and a non-profit organization. The affluent 88-year-old recently became the subject of a guardianship due to complications of Parkinson's disease. Prior to the guardianship, the woman regularly made sizeable contributions to the non-profit organization, and now the non-profit has stepped into the woman's guardianship proceedings to enforce what it claims are legally binding commitments to make a $1 million contribution.

The non-profit points to two letters signed by the Florida woman in 2003 and 2010 as evidence of an irrevocable pledge to make the hefty contribution. But the attorney representing the woman's guardian says that the letters are legally unenforceable, and that the elderly woman did not even realize what she signed.

According to the guardian's attorney (not affiliated with this firm), representatives of the non-profit took advantage of the woman's vulnerability by separating her from her personal aide and coercing her into signing the pledge letters. For the non-profit's part, it claims that its intervention will advance the woman's wishes. The non-profit maintains that the guardian's opposition to fulfilling the pledge would only frustrate the woman's philanthropic plans.

In many cases, guardianship can serve as a valuable tool for ensuring that an incapacitated person receives needed care and assistance. A guardian typically assumes legal authority to manage the ward's finances and may receive authority to make personal decisions about medical care and other important concerns.

As the case of the Florida philanthropist illustrates, though, guardianship is not always a great substitute for planning ahead. A comprehensive estate plan can help individuals make certain that their assets are not wasted in probate litigation. Floridians who want to include charitable contributions in their legacies will want to look into all of the legal options for obtaining that result.

Source: sunsentinel.com, "Holocaust center pursues woman, 88, for alleged $1 million pledge," Tonya Alanez, Feb. 29, 2012

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