Will Your Estate Plan Be Followed?

An estate plan can be too detailed or rigid. When that happens there’s a good chance at least some of it won’t be followed.

That’s especially true when assets are left in a trust or to charity.

A good example is the continuing saga of the Barnes Foundation.

Albert Barnes was a chemist and business owner who accumulated some wealth by developing treatments and preventive medicines for certain diseases. He used the wealth to purchase a collection of paintings that often is regarded as one of the great private collections.

He established the Barnes Foundation in Merion, Pennsylvania in 1922 to own and display the art. Barnes passed away in 1951.

The foundation’s documents state that all the paintings in the collection are to remain in the exact location and arrangement in the foundation’s buildings in Merion that they were in at Barnes’ death.

Over time the trustees of the foundation determined they couldn’t generate enough revenue to sustain the collection because of the restrictions. The trustees asked the courts to loosen the restrictions.

In particular the trustees wanted to move some of the paintings to Philadelphia, either on loan to established museums or in a new location of the foundation. They believed being in or near a major metropolitan area would generate more traffic and revenue. They also wanted the curators to be able to rearrange how some of the art is displayed.

The Pennsylvania courts generally agreed to the requests, with the most recent decision being delivered in August. There’s a documentary on the dispute that goes through about 2008 titled The Art of the Steal.

The Barnes Foundation saga shows the importance of avoiding conflicts in an estate plan.

A plan also shouldn’t be inflexible and have many restrictions. Otherwise, someone’s likely to resist or circumstances will change. Either event could trigger legal action. The courts are likely to balance the interests of the different parties and find the plan should change because the developer of the plan didn’t anticipate current circumstances.

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