Unintended consequences of charitable giving to universities: new football scoreboard - by Daniel L. O’Neil

by News Editor
in Blog
on 06 December 2016
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Note: This occurred in a non-Texas state so we can only speak generally about the concepts, nothing even remotely substantive about the other jurisdiction’s laws. Clearly he was not one of our clients, just to point that out as well.

You may have heard about Silas Marner-like long-serving University of New Hampshire (UNH) librarian Robert Morin’s passing and the large (approximately $4,000,000) charitable gift he left to his Alma mater and former employer.

The substantiality of the gift surprised a lot of people. He had no family members he felt were suitable to leave money to – like many Americans he felt his best option was a charitable gift then. He had amassed this surprising sum of money from living extremely frugally and saving everything he could. He never “went out,” he ate microwave dinners at home, and drove a modest 1992 car. It was a life of quiet sacrifices and missed opportunities in favor of socking away more money; not because librarians are paid as well as professional football players.

We can generalize a few things from these facts related by his financial advisor. Robert Morin worked for 50 years in the library and probably had some good memories there. Robert Morin saved every penny he could to maximize the amount (hence the power) of the final gift he could leave behind to honor his life and memory. Robert Morin, likely through his financial advisor, was at least somewhat familiar with the concept of estate planning. His financial advisor has been quoted in the USA Today as saying of Morin, “His whole life was the library.”

So how then does this college educated, well heeled millionaire, and somewhat savvy consumer of legal services make such a bad gift? Out of approximately $4,000,000 only $100,000 (approximately 1/40th) was restricted for use in the library – the remaining 39/40ths of $4 million was an unrestricted gift meaning the university could basically use it for pretty much anything they wanted. And what did they want? For starters, a $1 million brand new scoreboard for the football team. Which obviously has nothing to do with the library – or other topics du jour affecting university campuses such as the spiraling debt load as well as all of the social justice issues.  

One twitter commenter had an apt observation for UNH: “Do you want people to stop donating to your school? Because this is exactly how you stop donations.” The point being a very insulting use of donations – taking money from the library and improvements around campus that will actually help students obtain education and future employment opportunities (or at least help defray a small portion of spiraling student debt loads) in favor of another expensive trinket for the sportsball team. 

While we would like to think Robert Morin’s ghost is standing in the UNH quad ringing the Game of Thrones “shame” bell for eternity, we have no idea what he really wanted with his gift. We just know how this sits with us – it doesn’t sit right. And we have a past history of carefully drafting Will provisions to make sure that universities (and other entities we would have a concern about) can’t do things like this contrary to the vision, spirit, and life of the client that accumulated the wealth and wanted to make a nice charitable gift of it to further support the legacy of the vision, spirit, and life they left behind.

An important part of estate planning is discussing the desires you have and the outcomes you are trying to achieve with your comprehensive estate plan. In Texas this would have been a more serious conversation about why this was such a bad gift – and how American universities, which have plenty of their own public relations problems right now related to financial mismanagement, diversity, inclusion, safe spaces, university administrations protecting football players from rape allegations made by non-football players, and more – have their own ideas about how every unrestricted gift coming in to their coffers should be earmarked for the sportsball team rather to actually assist students in any conceivable way such as research grants, student meal plans, scholarships for students, or literally anything besides an inconsequential trinket for an already highly funded and well protected by administration athletic department.

In Texas a serious discussion with the client about the unintended consequences could have saved this gift and aligned it more with what we think Robert Morin would have had in mind for his life’s frugality and lost opportunities to simply acquire money so he could make what was a powerful gift in his mind. In Texas careful drafting of the Will provision could have saved this gift. In Texas we need more libraries. In Texas we need more diversity, inclusion, safe spaces, and initiatives to keep college affordable and manageable for everyone. 

If you need help making an appropriate charitable gift that will be used for important things on college campuses (like libraries) give us a call and let’s help you make the right kind of gift, rather than you accidentally subsidizing the football team.

Frye, Oaks, Benavidez & O’Neil, PLLC: over 105 years of Texas legal experience now under one roof.


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