Charitable trusts can continue for as long as there are assets in the trust and the trust is still able to carry out its mission. A trust created by President John Adams is still operating and there might be a dispute over control of it.
In 1822 John Adams created a trust to benefit the schoolchildren of Quincy, Massachusetts, his hometown. In the 1950s, by court decision the sole beneficiary of the trust became a private school in Quincy, The Woodward School for Girls.
For many years the city of Quincy managed the trust as trustee. However, in 2011, a probate court removed the city for mismanagement.
So far, the city has paid $1 million in damages to the trust and the school.
A trial is set to determine how much more the city owes.
Recently, a lawyer representing a descendent of Adams sent a letter to the current trustee demanding that control of the trust be returned to the Adams family.
Because Adams did not intend that the trust be used for the benefit of a school such as Woodward that accepts students from outside of the city of Quincy.
However, as of now, no court action has been taken on the demand.
The Patriot Ledger reported on the story in an article titled "No action from John Adams family over embattled trust."
When creating a charitable trust, it is almost impossible to know what the circumstances will be nearly two centuries later.
Nevertheless, it is important to think about what might happen and to plan how rigid or flexible you want the trust to be when adapting to changing circumstances.
Before he became a revolutionary and President, Adams was a well-known trial attorney so he might not have minded litigation over his trust 200 years later. On the other hand, most people would probably prefer that their trusts stay out of the courts.
When creating your charitable legacy, be sure to work with an experienced estate planning attorney who can help you think through these issues.
Reference: Patriot Ledger (May 13, 2015) "No action from John Adams family over embattled trust."