April 26, 2010
Article on Charitable Trust Management / Liability
The following is taken from the article: Charities In Distress: Governance and Standards In Troubled Times A charity also has obligations to its creditors, but not in abrogation of its duty to its donors. Whether a charity is in bankruptcy or state insolvency proceedings, or is simply trying to determine how to pay the bills, state law will determine the rights of creditors to assets held for charitable purposes. However, not all of a charity’s assets may be made available to pay the claims of creditors. The analysis under the law of the applicable state turns on whether the assets are held in a separate trust, or quasi-trust, whether the assets are held for specific purposes or, if the charity goes out of business, whether the court should apply principals of equity and determine the further use of assets held for specific purposes. A trust for the benefit of a charity will not ordinarily be subject to the claims of creditors, unless it can be revoked by the charity or was created by the charity for its own benefit. A trust created by a third party is generally not available to the claims of creditors. If the charity has ceased to exist, the trust will not fail; rather a state court will determine its further and best uses. Relying on these rules, some charities create separate fundraising entities to insulate those assets from the claims of creditors. Typically, however, an endowment is not legally a charitable trust. Nonetheless, an endowment created by a charity which solicited donors by representing the fund as a permanent fund for specific purposes may be deemed equivalent to a charitable trust and not subject to creditors’ claims. Donor intent, in short, trumps creditors’ claims where the fund is restricted for a particular purpose. Board-restricted assets ordinarily will be subject to creditors’ claims on the theory that they are revocable and self-settled. Also, to the extent that a debt is within the scope of the purposes of the endowment, some part of the endowment may be available to the creditor.