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Court Approves Transfer of Former Attorney General Reno’s Historic Miami Home to College


Estate planning is often used as a vehicle to make charitable gifts. For example, perhaps you wish to leave your favorite charity a certain amount of cash in your will. In most cases, the charity will welcome such gifts.

But what happens when a charity rejects a gift? This often comes up when a person uses a will or trust to leave a piece of real property to a charity. The organization may simply be unable–or unwilling–to take on the responsibility of managing the property. When this happens, the precise wording of your will or trust will often dictate what happens next.

Understanding the “Cy Pres” Rule in Florida

There was a recent high-profile case involving this issue from Miami-Dade County. In 2016, former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno passed away. At the time of her death, Reno lived in a historic house owned by a revocable trust she previously created. Under the terms of that trust, the successor trustee (one of Reno’s nephews) was directed to distribute the house and its surrounding property to the University of Miami.

The university rejected the gift, however, citing its inability to comply with the conditions imposed by the trust, namely that the historic property be preserved “in perpetuity.” The successor trustee then asked a Florida probate court for permission to amend the trust so that the property could be donated to another charitable beneficiary, Miami Dade College.

Such an action is permitted under what is known as Florida’s “cy pres” law. Cy pres is a legal doctrine that basically says when it is impossible or impractical to enforce a particular charitable gift, a court may allow an alternative distribution that is “consistent with the settlor’s charitable purposes.”

In this case, the probate court agreed with the successor trustee that it made sense to give the Reno property to another educational institution, as that was consistent with the former attorney general’s charitable purposes.

One of Reno’s other relatives appealed the probate court’s decision, arguing that the University of Miami’s refusal to accept the property meant it should be sold instead. But the Florida Third District Court of Appeals upheld the cy pres distribution to Miami Dade College. Indeed, the appeals court explained this was precisely the sort of situation the cy pres rule was meant to address. While the University of Miami had not “ceased to exist,” its refusal to accept the property meant it was “impossible to achieve” Reno’s original gift. The successor trustee therefore “identified an even-closer charitable, educational institution to accept the gift and to comply fully with” the trust’s mandate to maintain the historic property.

Speak with a Lee County, Florida, Trust Attorney Today

If you do plan to make a substantial charitable gift as part of your trust, it is always best to consult with the organization to let them know of your intentions ahead of time. And in any event, you should always leave your estate or trust clear instructions on how to deal with a scenario where a beneficiary might refuse a gift.

An experienced Fort Myers estate planning lawyer can advise you on this and many other topics related to your will or trust. Contact the Kuhn Law Firm, P.A., at 239-333-4529 today to schedule a free consultation.


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