Leaving a bequest to your preferred religious organization can be a great way to give back to your community and preserve your legacy. Often clients want to remember a group in their will, whether religious or otherwise, that has given them support and friendship over the years and I support this wholeheartedly. However, I also advise my clients to discuss these plans with their families so that a well informed decision can be made. This is especially true for older clients who are interested in changing their wills because they, often in need of companionship or a sense of community, all too often fall prey to manipulative cons.
This, unfortunately, seems to have recently happened to Doris Schmitt, of Queens, NY, who left nearly her entire estate — around $300,000 — to Family Radio, the Christian radio group behind the failed prediction that the world would end on May 21.
According to this CNN report, Doris lived a hard life and found solace in the station’s message that the lord would come in her lifetime. Although she did not live to see May 21 come and go, her niece, now the executor of her estate, is sure she would have been devastated by the knowledge that these doomsday predictions were a hoax. Now, her family is devastated, knowing her legacy will go toward supporting a false prophet and knowing there is little they can do about it.
Apparently, the niece knew of her aunt’s bequest but did not challenge the will because she did not know who Family Radio really was. In her eyes, her aunt was simply supporting a worthy cause. Now, she feels regret knowing that with only a few weeks until the estate is closed there is little she can do to challenge the outcome.
I would advise all persons acting as an executor or administrator of a loved one’s estate to take the time to investigate where their money is going to before it is too late to do anything about it. Also, talk with your family members about how they want their assets distributed so that there are no surprises when the will is read. Perhaps Doris, knowing what we all know now, would still have supported Family Radio and perhaps not. But because her family was not able to discuss these issues with her, her estate may be going toward the next round of doomsday billboards in a town near you.