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The Intricacy of Estate Litigation

November 30, 2023
The Intricacy of Estate Litigation

(Originally published on LinkedIn on April 17, 2023)

A recent case involving the Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford (Diocese) illustrates how the outcome of estate-related disputes can turn on very subtle distinctions and the specific legal theories chosen.

The Diocese closed two of its parochial schools (School A and School B) in neighboring towns and announced plans to replace them with a single new school (New School).

The closure announcement emphasized that the New School was, in fact, “new” and not a merger of School A and B. At the time of closure, School A had recently received a $5 million bequest. The assets of School A passed to the diocese, which was essentially its corporate parent.

A group of School A parents announced plans to open another Catholic school (Local School) intended to replace the one that had long served their town. The group laid claim to the remainder of the large bequest, theorizing that the testator’s designation of School A in his will amounted to a restriction that they were entitled to enforce.

The Supreme Court of Connecticut dismissed the parents’ case on the grounds that (1) the gift was unrestricted and (2) the parents, in any case, would not have “standing” (authority) to enforce a restriction on behalf of the Local School.

In tantalizing sidenotes, the court remarked that the putative plaintiffs had failed to brief two issues: (1) whether the Local School was the “successor corporation” to School A and thus entitled to its assets; and (2) whether the cy pres doctrine (lapsed gift goes to the most similar charity) might have been a basis for awarding the bequest to Local School.

Although the outcome may well have been the same, the losing party in a big dollar case never wants to hear that it neglected any arguments! Derblom v. Archdiocese of Hartford,(2023 WL 2506147).

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